Bridge to Terabithia : Chapter 3
Summary of Chapter Three: The Fastest Kid in the Fifth Grade
Jess and Leslie are both in Mrs. Myers's fifth-grade class. The principal brings Leslie into the class as a new student, and the other children gasp. They are all dressed in their best clothes for school, but Leslie is dressed in a T-shirt and cutoff jeans. Mrs. Myers is upset to have thirty-one students in the crowded basement classroom. Jess is caught up with the boys' excitement about the running games at recess to see who is the fastest.
Jess begins drawing at his desk, and Gary Fulcher behind him tries to see the drawing. The boys end up arguing, and Mrs. Myers scolds them. Jess thinks he cannot stand school for eight more years. At recess Gary Fulcher organizes the run into heats. Leslie lines up next to Jess. When Gary Fulcher tries to send Leslie away, Jess challenges him that he must be afraid to run with a girl. Gary gives in. Jess runs in a heat with Leslie and almost wins, except that Leslie beats him. She runs against Gary in the finals and wins. Leslie thanks Jess for standing up for her, but he is upset. His dream of being the winner failed. He avoids Leslie on the school bus.
Commentary on Chapter Three: The Fastest Kid in the Fifth Grade
Jess's dream of being the fastest runner is unexpectedly defeated by his own generosity in defending Leslie's right to run. The minute Leslie shows up she turns all the local conventions upside down. She dresses and acts like a hippie in the eyes of the farming community, looks like a boy, can beat the boys, is not afraid to stand up for herself, and is not embarrassed about her lifestyle, such as wearing cutoffs to school and eating yogurt. Though the story takes place in the late 1970s, the rural community is backward in thinking and lifestyle compared to the city where Leslie has lived. The school is overcrowded and poor, without proper facilities. There is no lunchroom, and only the older boys have balls to play with at recess. Miss Edmunds is an itinerant music teacher who only comes on Fridays and has to hold class in the teacher's room.
It will also be discovered that Leslie's parents are educated professionals, so there are class differences between Leslie and the other children. Jess lives in poverty with a family of seven on a farm, while Leslie is an only and pampered rich girl. The family moved to the country to get away from the city rat race. It is ironic that Leslie, who owns many dresses, is the one who looks ragged, while the other children, who have only one nice Sunday outfit, dress up for school.
Jess is frustrated about this new development. Both home and school are suffocating to his artistic nature. He has to hide his drawings at home, and he has to hide his drawings in his school desk. He loves Miss Edmunds because she is the only one who can see and admire him as a budding artist. Jess is creative and funny but has no one to talk to. He does not know how he can get through school under these circumstances. Running and drawing are his only joys, and now with these being thwarted, he has no outlets or way to be himself.
Paterson, Katherine, Bridge to Terabithia, Illustrated by Donna Diamond, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1977.