Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My kids and I listened to this on audiobook while driving across Ontario to northern Michigan.

My kids liked it, but my nearly-four-year-old preferred Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which we listened to just before this one.

I liked Bridge to Terabithia fine (unlike my son, I don’t think I can compare it to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), but it didn’t blow my mind or anything. The storyline was fine, and I like that it’s an emotional story written from the male protagonist’s point of view and that it provides a way for children to talk about death or loss of any kind, but I didn’t find the writing all that gripping.

My spouse and I were especially distracted by Paterson’s over-use of similes. Some examples:

  • feelings “like a stew on the back of the stove”
  • life “as delicate as a dandelion”
  • “as hot as popping oil”
  • the minister while preaching was “like JoyceAnn [the main character’s sister] throwing a tantrum”
  • the swollen creek to Terabithia was “like in The Ten Commandments on t.v.”
  • something was in his stomach “like a hunk of cold, undigested donut”
  • “The words exploded in his head like corn on the sides of a popper.”
  • words in his mind were (also) “like leaves stirred up by a cold wind”
  • a dog jumping at a character’s heels was “like a star around the moon”

That’s the general idea. I only started writing them down about two-thirds of the way through, but the book began with two similes right away in the first lines.

I mean, I don’t have a problem with similes per se, but the sheer volume in this book was distracting to me. I’d try to get into the story but Paterson’s similes kept turning up like bits of shell in my scrambled eggs. Not only that, but it made an otherwise serious and poignant subject seem a bit trite. I sat there thinking of the little placards my mom had hanging in each of our many kitchens growing up: “Happy as a…” and a picture of a lark. “Busy as a…” and a picture of a bee.

One thing I actively liked about the book was that it seemed contemporary despite being published more than 30 years ago. That—to me—suggests that this is a book that will remain relevant for several generations of readers, which is quite an accomplishment. I can imagine it sitting in children’s minds like a kerosene lamp glowing on the mantle of a cold fireplace.

However, I suspect it will stay with me less like the comforting glow of an oil lamp than like the dull itch of a yellow jacket sting three days out. Or perhaps just like the drone of our VW’s engine as we motored across Canadian farmland.

(Wow. I might have to re-think my criticism of Paterson’s style. These similes are really addictive.)

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