This young adult novel by Katherine Patterson tells the story of two friends, social outsiders, who find solace, identity, and self-confidence in each other and in their combined imagination. The protagonist of the story is Jesse Aarons, the only boy in a family of five children, mostly ignored by the rest of the family. An artistic boy, Jesse feels that he disappoints his father, who he thinks doesn’t understand him, and that he is an outsider at school.
Things change when Leslie Burke moves in next door. Her parents are writers, and Leslie has grown up differently than most of her peers - for example, she doesn’t own a TV. Jesse and Leslie quickly become close friends. Jesse is able to share his love of art and drawing with Leslie, and Leslie is able to share her love of fantasy stories with him. They create an imaginary world past the creek that lines both their properties. The world is called Terabithia, and they rule over it, fighting against monsters and building self-confidence. It is the imaginary play that allows them to face real fears, such as family conflicts and the bullies at school.
Things change again, however, when Jesse goes to the National Gallery of Art one day with his music teacher. Leslie goes to Terabithia alone, using the rope swing over the creek as they always do. The rope breaks, however, and she drowns in the creek. Jesse makes a memorial wreath for Leslie, and builds a bridge over the creek. This allows him to take his younger sister into Terabithia, making her the new Queen and passing on the legacy that the two friends began.