My son has been asking to go to the movie Bridge to Terabithia, so I thought I would read the book first. Usually, movie adaptations of books are too overdone, in my opinion (like that ridiculous scene when Harry falls out of the flying car in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). But after reading Bridge to Terabithia (by Katherine Paterson), I hope the movie can fill in some of the richness I so longed for while reading.
I'm beginning to think I have something against Newberry Award winners, because I haven't really liked either of the ones I've read so far this year. Bridge to Terabithia is the story of a poor boy (Jess) with an artistic, sensitive soul who befriends the new girl in school (Leslie), who is shunned by everyone else because she is too different (for one thing, her family doesn't have a TV). Their friendship centers around the imaginary kingdom of Terabithia, which they create in a forest and enter via a rope swing over a stream.
While Jess is visiting museums in Washington with his favorite teacher, Leslie tries to cross to Terabithia and falls when the rope swing breaks, killing her. The story then deals with the emotions Jess feels as he tries to cope with her death and his feelings of guilt for not inviting her on the trip with him.
I think this is fine subject matter for a children's book, but I kept having the weird feeling that I was missing something, like I had skipped over a couple of really important paragraphs that kept me from completely "getting" the story. For example, I wanted more explanation of Terabithia. All I know about it is that the friends built a little shack from scrap lumber but turned it into a castle for a kingdom by using their imaginations. Paterson hints to us about the kinds of adventures Jess and Leslie have in their imaginary kingdom, but I guess I wanted it more fleshed out so I could better identify with the characters.
Overall, the whole story seemed to be a Cliff Notes version of itself. I thought there were several times when characters did things that were not well-motivated (for example, why does his teacher call him up out of the blue and invite him to Washington? She had not been in the book for several chapters. AND what 20-something teacher in her right mind would invite a 10-year-old boy on a "field trip" without talking to his parents herself???!!!) . And Jess' father goes from basically ignoring him to being sensitive and supportive when Leslie dies, which could happen, I guess, but just feels contrived (to me). I've read other books in the "kid dealing with death" genre (like A Taste of Blackberries a LONG time ago, and others), and this one doesn't seem to have a convincing ring to it.
I want to like these characters, and I want to be a "participant" in Terabithia. But this book just seems to have an emotional distance that keeps me at arm's length, like it's afraid of me getting too close, and so I can't really be friends with it.