Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Bridge To Terabithia (Revisited)

So, way back in 2012 I kinda-sorta didn't really review Bridge to Terabithia. At the time I said that I couldn't fairly rate the story and I was telling the truth. I couldn't then. However, I've given it some more thought and I think now I'm ready to do so.

Before we start, I'd like to talk about something called Cerebus Syndrome. Those of you who spend a lot of time on TVTropes already know what I'm talking about, but for those who don't, I'll give a brief description.

Cerebus Syndrome is when a story that starts out lighthearted and fun becomes darker and more dramatic over time, named for the webcomic Cerebus the Aardvark, a comedy with barely any plot that inexplicably and notoriously became unbelievably dark and depressing later on. There's also the less common Reverse Cerebus Syndrome where a dark story becomes lighter, but we won't go into that right now.

Cerebus Syndrome isn't necessarily a bad thing. Done well, it can add depth to a previously shallow story. When it's done poorly, though, this is easily one of the worst things you can possibly do. A poorly done Cerebus switch makes you feel like you've been cheated out of the rest of the story. You were enjoying it as it was, but now all of a sudden the story is about something totally different and everyone is dead.

This is the reason why I hated Bridge to Terabithia so much. I said in my previous post that I understand why the story is so beloved and, well, I really do. As I also said in my review of Dungeons & Dragons, it's possible to like elements of a work even if you admit the work as a whole is not good, and I kind of feel like that's what's happening here. The fantasy world of Terabithia is interesting and I think that's what most people remember and like about this story.

But then there's that twist. Yeah, spoilers-except-not-really: Leslie dies. I talked in my previous review about how it was similar to a vaccine - exposing kids to sorrow and loss so that when they run into the real thing they can handle it. I honestly hate when stories kill off nice characters at all, which is why I didn't want to rate the story back then because I felt like maybe the problem might have just been me.

The problem, though, is that this twist is not earned at all. In fact, I'll go a step farther and say my whole "vaccine" analogy was giving this bullshit far more credit than it deserves. Yes, that's right, I said bullshit because that's what this is.

As I said in that review, if the story had been entirely about exploring the concepts of mortality and loss from the beginning, if this had been set up in any way at all, then it would be different. But it's not. The story is all happiness and cool fantasy stuff for like 95% of it, and then all of a sudden we're watching a little girl drown and a little boy cry at her funeral.

The best I can say for this twist is that it's not just a cheap shot for feels. It was based on a real life event that happened to the book's author and it took her weeks to work up the courage to write it.

That said, all this really means is that the writer is taking out her personal pain on us. Yes, bad things happen, and if you wanted to write a story about loss and misery to work out your feelings that would be totally fine. But you didn't, did you? No, instead you baited us in with happiness and fantasy and then punched us in the nose with a brass knuckles made out of death, horror, and misery, because apparently your way of working out your pain is to force that same pain onto others.

Despite what I've intended to do for several years I've never really said this before, but for the most part all of my ratings have objective meanings. As a result, none of my ratings really work here. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it's honestly true. My current rating system is woefully unfit for this work.

In terms of storytelling and crafting the work is virtually flawless, which would normally earn it a rating of 5 - Great, but that twist is just so absolutely terrible it completely killed any shred of enjoyment I was having with the story. So you might think 4 - Good, as a good work that's held back by one glaring flaw. But I feel like this flaw is worse than that. FAR worse. This twist didn't just tarnish my image of the story, it annihilated it, to a level on par with a 1 - Horrible... but it's not a horrible story.

That's why I'm giving this story this rating: negative 5. This story is Anti-Great. It is a beautifully polished piece of shit. It is expertly crafted with the goal of pissing you off and obliterating any sense of joy. It is perfect anti-entertainment. Seriously, I've tried to avoid cursing on the blog of late, but fuck this book.

KR Rating: [-5] ANTI-GREAT

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