There are many characters in Katherine Paterson's novel Bridge to Terabithia, and each plays his or her role in advancing the plot and/or revealing something about the protagonists Jess and Leslie. This guide describes and explains the major and minor Bridge to Terabithia characters.
Jess and Leslie are the protagonists, or main characters, of the novel. The plot and the actions of the other characters revolve around them, challenging them and helping them work through their fears.
Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr.: Jesse is the novel’s viewpoint character; we see the story unfold from his perspective. As the only boy in a struggling family of girls Jesse feels like an outcast, and finds refuge from his problems in his passions for running and drawing. He longs for the love and acceptance of his father, his male role-model, but his father withholds affection from Jesse and doesn’t approve of his preference for art. Jess is intelligent but fearful, afraid to do anything but conform as best he can to the world’s standards until he meets Leslie. Through Leslie and the imaginary kingdom of Terabithia, Jess begins to overcome his various fears and learn to face and work through his problems rather than avoiding them.
Leslie Burke: The new girl in town, Leslie moves in next door to Jess at the beginning of the novel. She is an unusual girl, who looks and runs like a boy and doesn’t fit in at all in Jess’s small-town school. Her parents are both writers, and Leslie seems to have inherited their creativity and passion. Though her family is well-off they have certain unusual characteristics, such as not owning a television, that further alienate Leslie from her peers. Still, she is a caring girl who tries to make friends with everyone she meets, and uses her active imagination to invent ways to deal with her and Jess’s difficulties.
Miss Edmunds: The school’s music teacher, Miss Edmunds is as unusual as Leslie. She dresses like a hippie and doesn’t wear makeup, and has rather unconventional teaching methods. Jess has a crush on Miss Edmunds from the beginning of the novel, a fact which plays a major role in the plot. Both Jess and Leslie are able to connect with this teacher fairly easily, seeing something of themselves in the way Miss Edmunds is alienated from the rest of the school, and they go out of their way to help her. Miss Edmunds is also the first to recognize and appreciate Jess’s talent for drawing.
May Belle Aarons: May Belle is six and Jess’s second youngest sister, and she looks up to and idolizes her brother. She follows Jess (and later Leslie and Jess) around and tries to get him to play with her, a behavior which Jess often finds frustrating. But she has no one else to play with when she’s at home, seeing Joyce Ann as too young and her older sisters as much too old. Whenever she gets into trouble, especially with bullies at school like Janice Avery, May Belle expects Jess to rescue her and find a way to solve her problems.
Mr. Aarons: As Jess’s father, Mr. Aarons is the person Jess most wishes to impress and please. However, although he is affectionate with his daughters Mr. Aarons treats Jess much differently, expecting him to ‘be a man’ and take care of himself. Mr. Aarons is a generally kind man who works very hard to support his large family, and is prone to bouts of anger due to his chronic stress. It is clear that he cares for all of his children, even if he is at times impatient and distant.
Janice Avery: Janice is the school bully, terrorizing the younger kids on the bus and the playground. She and Leslie have several confrontations, as Leslie seems unwilling to put up with the bullying as all the other kids do, though Jess is more cautious. But as Jess and Leslie eventually learn, Janice has problems at home that drive her to act in the violent way she does: she is not a monster but a human being. Leslie is the first to realize this, and the gesture of friendship she extends to this bully defines her caring and brave nature.
Mr. and Mrs. Burke: Leslie’s parents are both writers: her father specializes in political writing and her mother writes novels. They are fairly successful and are caring parents, though at times they become absorbed in their work and neglectful of Leslie. Still, their creative approach to life and easy affection with one another is appealing to Jess, who sees them as the kind of family he wishes he had.
Mrs. Aarons: Jess’s mother cares for the family’s house and her five children, and is as tired and stressed by their financial situation as her husband is. She is also subject to similar bouts of temper. Like her husband she appears to care about her children, but has little interaction with Jess except to nag him about chores.
Ellie and Brenda Aarons: These are Jess’s older sisters, around sixteen and fourteen respectively. They are both portrayed as spoiled and selfish, not helping their mother as much as they should and absorbed in consumerism and popular culture. Both are very self-absorbed, and they constantly bicker with each other and annoy Jess. Ellie is the more sophisticated of the two, better able to get out of chores and convince their mother to give her money the family can’t afford to waste.
Joyce Ann Aarons: Joyce Ann is four, and is Jess’s youngest sister. She is the baby of the family, and portrayed as little more than whiney and annoying. She is too young for any of her siblings, even May Belle, to pay her much attention, and she does not seem to have the same affection for Jess that May Belle has.
Mrs. Myers: Jess and Leslie’s fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Myers is portrayed at first as a stereotypically harsh teacher, a disciplinarian who is given the nickname “Monster Mouth Myers." She is one of the few at school who appreciates Leslie, though, seeing her as a model student. And near the end of the novel she is revealed to have a human past and emotions, in much the same way Janice Avery is shown to be more than a simple bully.
Prince Terrien: Prince Terrien is the puppy Jess gives Leslie for Christmas, a perfect gift that helps cement their friendship. He accompanies Jess and Leslie on many of their excursions to Terabithia, and plays various roles in their imaginary games.