Bridge to Terabithia

by

Katherine Paterson

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Jess Aarons Character Analysis

Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr.—or Jess, as he prefers to be called—is the 10-year-old protagonist of Bridge to Terabithia. Athletic and artistic, sensitive yet determined to be tough and competitive, Jess is a skilled painter and runner who is constantly trying to prove his masculinity to his judgmental father and teasing sisters (May Belle, Brenda, Ellie, and Joyce Ann). Jess is burdened by the pressures of being the only boy in his family in other ways, too—many household chores fall to him, and he feels stifled, annoyed, and lonely much of the time. Jess’s mother and father struggle to make ends meet each day, and Jess and his sisters are frequently resentful of the ways in which their family’s world seems to revolve around money and its lack. All of that changes when Leslie Burke moves onto Jess’s street. A tomboyish girl who beats Jess in an important race at school, Leslie is, at first, yet another threat to Jess’s masculinity and a reminder of how he has to minimize himself to fit in with his family. As the school year progresses, however, Jess learns just how special Leslie is. Together, the two of them find a stretch of abandoned woods on the opposite side of a creek near their houses and dub it Terabithia—a magical land where the two of them are in charge, and find that anything they dream might come true. Jess soon comes to love Leslie and regard her as his best friend. As Jess and Leslie navigate school and family together, Jess feels more supported and loved than he has in his life. When Leslie dies suddenly in a tragic accident—on her way over the creek to Terabithia, no less—Jess cannot accept the fact that his best friend is dead, and tries to deny the fact of her loss and literally run away from the news. Eventually, Jess realizes he can’t outrun the truth—he can’t ignore Leslie’s death any more than he can ignore the impact she’s had on his life, his confidence, and his capacity for wonder. Jess builds a bridge to Terabithia to symbolize his desire to accept Leslie’s death, carry on her memory, and let others into the world of Terabithia—a place where anything is possible, where everyone is equal, and where friendship, love, adventure, and nonconformity reign.

Jess Aarons Quotes in Bridge to Terabithia

The Bridge to Terabithia quotes below are all either spoken by Jess Aarons or refer to Jess Aarons. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Friendship, Grief, and Loss Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Bridge to Terabithia published in 2017.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Daddy!” May Belle screamed with delight and started running for the road. Jess watched his dad stop the truck, lean over to unlatch the door, so May Belle could climb in. He turned away. Durn lucky kid. She could run after him and grab him and kiss him. It made Jess ache inside…

Related Characters: May Belle Aarons (speaker), Jess Aarons, Mr. Aarons
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
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The person had jaggedy brown hair cut close to its face and wore one of those blue undershirtlike tops with faded jeans cut off above the knees. [Jess] couldn’t honestly tell whether it was a girl or a boy.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 3 Quotes

He felt it before he saw it. Someone was moving up. He automatically pumped harder. Then the shape was there in his sideways vision. Then suddenly pulling ahead. He forced himself now. His breath was choking him, and the sweat was in his eyes. But he saw the figure anyhow. The faded cutoffs crossed the line a full three feet ahead of him.

Leslie turned to face him with a wide smile on her tanned face.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke , Gary Fulcher
Related Symbols: Running
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
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On the bus that afternoon [Jess] sat down beside May Belle. It was the only way he could make sure that he wouldn’t have Leslie plunking herself down beside him. Lord, the girl had no notion of what you did and didn’t do.

Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

“Do you know what we need?” Leslie called to [Jess.] […] “We need a place,” she said, “just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell anyone in the whole world about it. […] It might be a whole secret country,” she continued, “and you and I would be the rulers of it.”

Related Characters: Leslie Burke (speaker), Jess Aarons
Page Number: 49-50
Explanation and Analysis:
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There in the shadowy light of the stronghold everything seemed possible. Between the two of them they owned the world and no enemy, Gary Fulcher, Wanda Kay Moore, Janice Avery, Jess’s own fears and insufficiencies, nor any of the foes whom Leslie imagined attacking Terabithia, could ever really defeat them.

Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
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[Jess] wasn’t comfortable having Leslie at his house either. […] Brenda and Ellie always made some remark about “girl friend.” His mother acted stiff and funny [and] later she would refer to Leslie’s “tacky” clothes. […] Her hair was “shorter than a boy’s.” Her parents were “hardly more than hippies.” […] His father had seen Leslie only a few times and had nodded to show that he had noticed her, but his mother said that she was sure he was fretting that his only son did nothing but play with girls, and they both were worried about what would become of it.

Page Number: 58-59
Explanation and Analysis:
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Leslie was more than his friend. She was his other, more exciting self—his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 6 Quotes

“What are you giving your girl friend, Jess?” Brenda screwed her face up in that ugly way she had. [Jess] tried to ignore her. […]

“Don’t you know, Brenda?” Ellie joined in. “Jess ain’t got no girl friend.”

“Well, you’re right for once. Nobody with any sense would call that stick a girl.” […] Something huge and hot swelled right up inside of him. […] Lord, it hurt his guts to realize that it was Brenda who was his blood sister, and that […] he and Leslie were not related at all. Maybe, he thought, I was a foundling, like in the stories.

Related Characters: Brenda Aarons (speaker), Ellie Aarons (speaker), Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke
Page Number: 72-73
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 7 Quotes

Jess tried going to Terabithia alone, but it was no good. It needed Leslie to make the magic. He was afraid he would destroy everything by trying to force the magic on his own, when it was plain that the magic was reluctant to come for him.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
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“Janice Avery is a very unfortunate person. Do you realize that?”

“What was she crying about, for heaven’s sake?”

“It’s a very complicated situation. I can understand now why Janice has so many problems related to people. […] Did you know her father beats her?”

Related Characters: Jess Aarons (speaker), Leslie Burke (speaker), Janice Avery
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

All March it poured. For the first time in many years the creek bed held water, not just a trickle either, enough so that when they swung across, it was a little scary looking down at the rushing water below. Jess took Prince Terrien across inside his jacket, but the puppy was growing so fast he might pop the zipper any time and fall into the water and drown.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke
Related Symbols: Prince Terrien
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

For Jess the fear of the crossing rose with the height of the creek. Leslie never seemed to hesitate, so Jess could not hang back. But even though he could force his body to follow after, his mind hung back, wanting to cling to the crab apple tree the way Joyce Ann might cling to Momma’s skirt.

Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes

Entering the gallery was like stepping inside the pine grove [in Terabithia]—the huge vaulted marble, the cool splash of the fountain, and the green growing all around. Two little children had pulled away from their mothers and were running about, screaming to each other. It was all Jess could do not to grab them and tell them how to behave in so obviously a sacred place.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, Miss Edmunds
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 11 Quotes

He ran until he was stumbling but he kept on, afraid to stop. Knowing somehow that running was the only thing that could keep Leslie from being dead. It was up to him. He had to keep going.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke
Related Symbols: Running
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
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“Well, Momma, he’s just sitting there eating pancakes like nothing happened. I’d be crying my eyes out.”

Ellie was looking first at Mrs. Aarons and then at Brenda. “Boys ain’t supposed to cry at times like this. Are they, Momma?”

Related Characters: Brenda Aarons (speaker), Ellie Aarons (speaker), Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke , Mrs. Aarons
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 13 Quotes

Jess raced to the sound of May Belle’s cry. She had gotten halfway across on the tree bridge and now stood there grabbing the upper branches, terrified to move either forward or backward.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, May Belle Aarons
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
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It occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted. After you stayed for a while and grew strong you had to move on. For hadn’t Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make him see beyond to the shining world—huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile? […] It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.

Related Characters: Jess Aarons, Leslie Burke
Page Number: 160-161
Explanation and Analysis:
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When [Jess] finished, he put flowers in [May Belle’s] hair and led her across the bridge—the great bridge into Terabithia—which might look to someone with no magic in him like a few planks across a nearly dry gully.

“Shhh,” he said. “Look.”

“Where?”

“Can’t you see ‘um?” he whispered. “All the Terabithians standing on tiptoe to see you. […] There’s a rumor going around that the beautiful girl arriving today might be the queen they’ve been waiting for.”

Related Characters: Jess Aarons (speaker), May Belle Aarons (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bridge to Terabithia
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
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Get the entire Bridge to Terabithia LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Jess Aarons Character Timeline in Bridge to Terabithia

The timeline below shows where the character Jess Aarons appears in Bridge to Terabithia. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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Jess Aarons wakes up early to the sound of his father leaving the house for work... (full context)
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The August morning is unseasonably cold. Jess climbs over the backyard fence and into the cow field beyond, where the family’s cow,... (full context)
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Jess envisions himself winning as he races across the field. He knows that becoming the fastest... (full context)
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Jess gets stuck doing most of the chores, including milking Miss Bessie and picking beans from... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...appointed time. As a result, Mrs. Aarons is short-tempered, taking all her rage out on Jess. Jess fixes sandwiches for himself, May Belle, and Joyce Ann since their mother is too... (full context)
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Jess’s drawings are often fantastical renderings of animals in funny, silly situations. As much as Jess... (full context)
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Mrs. Aarons calls Jess out of his room, reminding him to go milk Miss Bessie again. While he’s out... (full context)
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The next morning, Jess gets up early to run even though he’s tired. While he runs through the field,... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Tuesday is the first day of school. Leslie, it turns out, is in Jess’s fifth-grade class—she shows up wearing an undershirt and cutoffs. All the other students are in... (full context)
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...Gary Fulcher organizes fourth and fifth graders into groups of four to run in heats. Jess watches the first few heats with anticipation, cheering when Gary wins one. Soon, Leslie comes... (full context)
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When it’s time for Jess’s race, he enjoys the feeling of running alongside his classmates—he can tell that the others... (full context)
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That afternoon, on the bus, Jess sits down next to May Belle—something he rarely does. He doesn’t want to be seen... (full context)
Chapter 4
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The rest of Jess’s first week back to school is terrible. Leslie races the boys each day, rejoicing in... (full context)
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...class gathers and Miss Edmunds begins strumming her guitar, entreating the class to sing along, Jess meets Leslie’s eyes across the room. They smile at each other, and Jess privately forgives... (full context)
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That afternoon on the bus, Leslie sits with Jess and May Belle and tells them all about her old school in Arlington, a suburb... (full context)
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...in front of Mrs. Myers’s class by admitting that her family doesn’t have a television. Jess can do little to help Leslie other than stand by as the other students mock... (full context)
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...Leslie goes to the back of the bus and sits in the seventh graders’ seats. Jess tries frantically to get her to come back to her regular seat as the biggest,... (full context)
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That afternoon, when Jess, Leslie, and May Belle get off at their stop, Leslie asks if Jess wants to... (full context)
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...they create a “whole secret country” of which they are the rulers. The idea excites Jess. Leslie suggests they start a “magic country like Narnia” in the woods beyond the creek.... (full context)
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...of them spend the next several days and weeks building and preparing Terabithia. Leslie loans Jess her box set of The Chronicles of Narnia so that he can learn about how... (full context)
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One afternoon, Janice Avery accuses Jess of tripping her on the bus. The bus driver makes Jess get out and walk.... (full context)
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By October, the other students at school have noticed how much time Leslie and Jess are spending together. Gary Fulcher teases Jess about his new “girl friend,” but Jess knows... (full context)
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...has turned cold. Leslie brings two sleeping bags to Terabithia to help keep her and Jess warm—but Jess makes her take them back to her parents’ house because he’s afraid of... (full context)
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Jess doesn’t feel comfortable bringing Leslie to his house, either. Mrs. Aarons acts strange around Leslie... (full context)
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Jess loves visiting Terabithia each day with Leslie. The two of them begin spending a lot... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...she brags to her friends about them on the bus. At recess, May Belle approaches Jess and Leslie in tears—Janice has stolen her Twinkies. She begs Leslie and Jess to beat... (full context)
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That afternoon, in Terabithia, Leslie and Jess hold a war council. They strategize about how they can get Janice back without getting... (full context)
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The next morning, Jess and Leslie sneak into school early. Leslie creates a distraction at the seventh-grade classroom door... (full context)
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...hatred. May Belle marvels at the horrific expression on Janice’s face and asks Leslie and Jess if they are the ones who made her that mad. Leslie tells her they’re the... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...them that there’s not enough money to spare for such things. Ellie and Brenda tease Jess about what he’s getting for his girlfriend—before declaring that no one in their right mind... (full context)
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Jess is, in fact, upset that he has nothing to give Leslie for Christmas. He considers... (full context)
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On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Jess and Leslie meet in Terabithia. Jess has put a ribbon around the puppy’s neck, and... (full context)
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That night, the “glow” of the magical afternoon with Leslie and Prince Terrien remains with Jess even as his family bickers and squabbles. The next morning, May Belle gets her Barbie... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...house with Leslie’s help. As a result, Leslie is often busy with her father, so Jess tries to go to Terabithia alone a few times—but without Leslie, the place is devoid... (full context)
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Though Jess is often lonely and bored, Leslie is happy—she loves helping her father fix up the... (full context)
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Bill often compliments Jess’s skill with tools and capacity for hard work, but Jess still feels stupid and inferior... (full context)
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After several weeks, the living room is at last finished. Jess, Leslie, and Bill have painted it gold and refinished the original floorboards—Leslie feels the room... (full context)
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The next afternoon, after more than a month away from Terabithia, Jess and Leslie grab Prince Terrien and cross the creek bed. Leslie wonders how the kingdom... (full context)
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A few days later, Leslie comes out to recess and tells Jess that she has heard Janice Avery crying in the bathroom—she can tell it was Janice... (full context)
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All through class that afternoon and during the entire bus ride home, Jess tries to get Leslie’s attention, hoping to find out what transpired in the bathroom. She... (full context)
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...off—she advised her that in a few days, the gossip would die down. Leslie tells Jess that she believes she now has “one and one-half friends” at Lark Creek. Jess thrills... (full context)
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That night, in their bedroom, May Belle whispers to Jess and tells him that she followed him and Leslie this afternoon—now she knows where they... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Throughout March, it rains for the entire month. Jess and Leslie continue to visit Terabithia even in the bad weather, but Jess becomes increasingly... (full context)
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As Easter approaches, Jess’s older sisters begin to worry about what they’ll wear to church. The family only goes... (full context)
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Leslie comes into the barn while Jess is milking the cow and sits with him. He tells her about the sad news—and... (full context)
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...money to buy all the girls in the family something new to wear to church. Jess says that since he’s not getting anything new, he should be allowed to bring a... (full context)
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At the end of the service, Leslie tells Jess that she’s glad she came—she liked it “better than a movie” and found the story... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...Monday, the rain starts up again with the same fury it possessed all of March. Jess and Leslie are bored and decide to go to Terabithia in spite of the pouring... (full context)
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When Jess and Leslie get to the creek, they stop and look down in awe. The creek... (full context)
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Jess and Leslie continue to visit Terabithia throughout the week, even as the creek continues to... (full context)
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On Wednesday night, Jess wakes up in the early hours of the morning to the realization that it is... (full context)
Chapter 10
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In the morning, Jess wakes to the sound of his dad’s pickup truck. Mr. Aarons has been going out... (full context)
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Jess milks Miss Bessie, worrying all the while about what will happen if the creek is... (full context)
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May Belle calls Jess inside, telling him that someone is on the phone for him. He never gets phone... (full context)
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Jess doesn’t think about inviting Leslie along until Miss Edmunds has already driven them beyond the... (full context)
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...like entering the pine grove in Terabithia—sacred and awe-inspiring. Miss Edmunds explains certain paintings to Jess, and he is torn between which is more beautiful—the art, or her. At lunchtime, Miss... (full context)
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After Miss Edmunds drops Jess at home he goes inside, feeling as if he’s “jiggling” with joy—but as he heads... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Jess feels something whirling about in his head. His mouth feels dry, and he can’t understand... (full context)
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Jess turns around runs out of the house. He keeps running all the way down the... (full context)
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Jess wakes with a jerk from a dream he can’t remember. He can see that it... (full context)
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In the morning, Jess wakes up to find that his sisters are already out of bed. He realizes that... (full context)
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Mr. Aarons comes in from milking Miss Bessie. As he passes Jess’s chair, he puts a hand on his son’s shoulder. He then tells Jess that it’s... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Mr. Aarons and Mrs. Aarons walk Jess over the Burkes’. They knock at the front door—Jess can immediately hear Prince Terrien begin... (full context)
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Jess realizes that he is the only person his age whose best friend has died—and that... (full context)
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Bill comes into the room and wraps Jess in a hug. Jess doesn’t move as he feels Bill’s body shaking with sobs. He... (full context)
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As the adults begin talking, Jess overhears Bill tell his parents that Leslie has been cremated. Jess feels something inside his... (full context)
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Jess leaves the Burkes’ abruptly and runs home crying angry tears. May Belle excitedly asks if... (full context)
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Mr. Aarons comes up behind Jess and tells him he’s done a “damn fool thing.” Jess, weeping, says he doesn’t care.... (full context)
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Back at the house, everyone is kind and gentle with Jess—except for May Belle, who’s still angry with him. Jess doesn’t know how to apologize to... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Jess wakes up early Saturday morning to start on his chores—his father has been milking Miss... (full context)
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At the creek, Jess finds that a large log has washed up onto the bank. He tests how firm... (full context)
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Jess decides to make a funeral wreath for Leslie, the queen of Terabithia, from a pine... (full context)
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The moment of peace is disrupted when Jess hears someone calling his name and shouting for help—it is May Belle. He runs back... (full context)
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On Monday, when Jess walks into class, he sees that Leslie’s desk has already been removed from the classroom.... (full context)
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After the pledge of allegiance—for which Jess refuses to stand—Mrs. Myers asks Jess to step into the hall. He prepares to get... (full context)
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Jess cannot stop the flood of thoughts he has about Leslie throughout the day. She took... (full context)
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...with a U-Haul, ready to pack up the Perkins place. With Leslie gone, they tell Jess, there’s no reason for them to stay—they moved here for her sake so she’d grow... (full context)
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Bill, growing teary, says that he envisioned leaving Prince Terrien with Jess—but after some time away from him, he’s realized he can’t give the dog up. Jess... (full context)
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The next day, after school, Jess begins shuttling a couple of pieces of lumber at a time from the old Perkins... (full context)
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When Jess finally finishes building the bridge to Terabithia, he puts flowers in May Belle’s hair and... (full context)