Thursday, November 21, 2013

On the other side of the Bridge

E has been asking if she's ready to read the Harry Potter books. That she's asking that question instead of just reaching for them on the shelf tells both her and me that she's not ready; however she asks because she wants to be ready. Several friends have read all seven books. Some of them have seen the movies. All of those friends either A) have older siblings who have routinely exposed them at early ages to all kinds of relatively scary things; B) are uninhibited boys; or C) both.There's no way my tenderhearted, easily scared, wildly imaginative E is ready for books (I love wholeheartedly) about (among other things) the supernatural and evil and death.

Still, she wants to grow her exposure and wants to be ready for Harry, and so this September I suggested that she read Bridge to Terabithia. It was a perfect choice because the reason I gave her for that particular book recommendation was that she could get it signed at the National Book Festival and she loves to get books signed at the National Book Festival.

It's not why I suggested it, though: I wanted my girl to fall in love with Leslie so she could read Leslie's sudden death.

I didn't warn her. I let her fall in love and I knew when she was nearing the end. When she came out of her room, wordless, eyes spilling lines down her face and the book clutched to her chest, I hugged her. I loved Leslie, too, the first time I read the book, and I loved her even more when I read the novel cover-to-cover the night before I knew E would reach that chapter.

It's a book about loneliness and belonging and trust and finding one's voice, all critical growing-up themes; and it's a book about love and bad news and death. There's nothing like your first death of a beloved character.  Two months later, she still mentions Leslie. We talk about how our memories of her friendship can carry on in our hearts even though her story ended, and how the lessons she taught Jesse (and by extension, us) become her living legacy. Everyone who's gone before us carries on in the way they affect us.

Leslie was chosen to pave the way for Harry, but she's served as valuable parable this week. Thank goodness for books.

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