Kate Foster is an expert when it comes to handling difficult topics and making them accessible to children through sincere and real storytelling, just make sure you have the tissues on hand.
Eleven-year-old Matt used to be happy. He used to love football, hanging out with his mates, playing Jungle Warfare and school was never a problem. But recently there have been more bad days than good days and he is falling apart. He is struggling, he is not happy and he is tired all of the time. And to make matters worse, he doesn’t know why.
When he finds a neglected dog on a bush-walk, he instantly recognises that the dog needs help. But is a child doubting his own self-worth and purpose in life, the saviour that the dog needs? And is it only Cliff that needs saving…
Foster’s first middle-grade novel, Paws, explored an autistic character and his relationship with his canine companion. This time, she returns with an equally powerful, insightful and necessary story about rescue dog Cliff and his new owner, Matt. Dealing with the complex issues of depression and anxiety, The Bravest Word is clever, sensitive and full of emotional intelligence. Exceptionally well-written, it is a beautiful and empathetic read that many children will find comforting and reassuring and is an essential book for any young person who is battling with their own mental health struggles.
One thing that struck me was how Foster was able to so accurately portray a young character in the turmoil of depression. Fast-forward to the author’s note and it was no surprise to read that she has had her own struggles with depression and it is clear that these have had a massive influence in the character of Matt whose experiences can only be written about from someone who has lived it; the inner feelings of worthlessness, guilt, anger, overwhelming sadness and being scared to the physical signs of bodily aches and heaviness, tightening chest and tears. I can imagine many children having clarity around feelings and emotions that have perhaps gone misunderstood.
Raw, honest and heartfelt, Matt’s conversations with the adults in his life are difficult and moving and exemplify how challenging it is for both children and adults to talk about depression. For me, the most impactful person is next-door-neighbour Jane who openly talks about depression and helps break down the stigma around the word, ultimately giving Matt the encouragement he needs to address the issue with his parents.
There is a lot of stigma around depression and Foster helps to break down so much of this. Yes, it can happen to anyone…adults and children, even dogs. Her skill as an author is to not only inform but to empower us to have those difficult conversations. We are asked to question what it means to be brave, to be weak, to be strong. Should we just cope with life and get on with things? Is that what makes us strong and brave? Or is having strength the ability to recognise the situation and admit the need for help?
This honest exploration of mental health, childhood depression and the bravery in taking the first steps in asking for help is a book that all children need access to.
With huge thanks to Walker for the copy I received in exchange for an honest review.
Recommended for 10+.