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Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia | Chapter 3 : The Fastest Kid in the Fifth Grade | Summary



Leslie joins Jess's fifth-grade class at school, arriving dressed in "faded cutoffs and the blue undershirt." All the other students, dressed up for the first day of school, are shocked at her appearance. Jess doodles a fantasy animal while another student passes out schoolbooks, and Gary Fulcher tries to peek at his drawing. Jess refuses and stomps on Gary's toe, drawing the attention of their teacher Mrs. Myers, or "Monster-Mouth Myers," with her "lemon-pie smile" that she wears only on the first and last days of school. "A whole year of this," thinks Jess in misery and humiliation. "He wasn't sure he could stand it."

The students eat lunches, brought from home, at their desks—the school has no lunchroom or cafeteria. After lunch at recess the boys' long-awaited footraces begin, with bossy Gary Fulcher reigning over the process. Leslie shows up with the boys, and Jess tries to ignore her, hoping "she would go back to the upper field where she belonged" with the other girls and play hopscotch. But she stays. When Jess challenges Gary about the outcome of a race, Gary sneers and says, "next thing you're gonna want to let some girl run." In gleeful defiance Jess invites Leslie to run, taunting Gary with "You ain't scared to let a girl race are you, Fulcher?"

Leslie runs in the next race, and much to everyone's surprise, she wins, beating even Jess. His dream is crushed: "He was going to be champion ... and he hadn't even won his heat." When Gary doesn't want to let Leslie run in the final, Jess taunts him again with cowardice. To save face Gary must allow Leslie to race, and Leslie wins again. When she tries to thank Jess for including her, Jess gives her the cold shoulder and ignores her on the bus ride home. Nevertheless Jess watches as she runs home from the bus stop: "She ran as though it was her nature," the narrator reveals. "The word 'beautiful' came to his mind."


Lark Creek Elementary is a carryover from older schools that students attended through the eighth grade, after which they began high school in ninth grade. There is no junior high or middle school—just elementary school and high school. Jess is not a big fan of school or of his teacher, Mrs. Myers, whom he repeatedly mocks throughout the book and imagines as a "monster." He seems to have no real friends at school, aside from "frenemies" like Gary Fulcher. School is a dog-eat-dog world where gossip reigns, bullies go unchecked, and everyone has a place in the social pecking order. One reason Jess is so keen to win the footraces is to prove his worth in his classmates' eyes and to raise his social status.

Jess sees Leslie as an outsider, rather like himself. But she is a threat who could drag him down with her to the bottom of the social heap where she currently resides, just below him, as the new kid at school. And Leslie is not the kind of new kid who will get positive attention. Leslie doesn't behave as a girl is "supposed to," and Jess doesn't want to be associated with her for this reason. He doesn't want to upset the status quo and make his own social standing even worse.

From the start Leslie is like a fish out of water. She doesn't dress like the other students—neither the girls nor the boys—but hardly seems to notice or care they judge her for her nonconformity. She has no difficulty pushing social boundaries or challenging gender roles and seems to do so in an almost clueless manner, but perhaps with more intent than is outwardly apparent. Observant and intelligent, she obviously sees that boys and girls play separately at recess, yet she doesn't hesitate to try to join the boys in running because running appeals to her true nature, as hopscotch and more traditional girl games, still in vogue, do not. Although her choice may make her appear clueless to the others, she is not clueless at all; given her suburban sophistication and greater awareness of life outside rural Virginia, she is simply ignoring conventions she does not like or accept. Leslie does not abide by society's—or a rural school's—accepted social boundaries or gender roles and rules. She wants to be herself openly, and her self-esteem is strong enough to weather a few strange looks and comments behind her back.

Jess, despite his disappointment as he mourns the loss of his dreams of running glory, can't help but admire Leslie's natural running talent as well as her gumption and confidence at putting herself forward to compete. Indeed, he has never seen anything like it. But he is not yet ready to accept her friendship and continues to avoid her. Readers may note some foreshadowing in this chapter regarding Jess and May Belle's relationship. To avoid Leslie Jess purposely sits next to May Belle on the bus ride home, something he never does; Leslie's presence being the motivating force for his action. Later in the story Leslie unwittingly again will be the motivating force drawing the siblings closer together.

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