Title: The Bravest Word
Author: Kate Foster
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 4th May 2022
Synopsis: A rescue story of love and trust between a boy and a dog from the talented author of Paws.
Do you hear that? You’re Cliff now, and your life is going to get better, I promise. When eleven-year-old Matt finds Cliff, a hurt, neglected dog abandoned in the bush, he knows the brave little pup needs saving. He wants to help. But can he? Lately, Matt has had way more bad days than good days. The pieces of his life just don’t seem to fit together anymore and he doesn’t understand why. He’s finding it impossible to concentrate at school and has lost interest in the activities he used to love. Plus, he’s tired all the time. Matt’s too afraid to share what’s really going on in his own head with anyone. His friends and family will never understand . . . maybe it’s not only Cliff who needs saving.
- Kate brought her own experiences of depression to the story which offers a deep, realistic insight into living with the illness.
- According to Beyond Blue, “Half of all the mental health conditions we experience at some point in our lives will have started by age 14.” Author Kate Foster wanted to address this scary statistic and write a book about a boy who is grappling with his own mental health and the support he receives.
- A resource page featuring phone numbers and websites from relevant mental health services is included in the book.
Matt has just started high school – but he’s feeling like everything is falling apart. He doesn’t want to go to school, doesn’t want to play football (soccer), and doesn’t want to spend time with his friends, Dad has noticed, and wants to help – and one day, whilst out walking, they find an abandoned dog that Matt names Cliff, and for the first time in a long time, he feels a connection. He can sense that Cliff needs him as much as he needs Cliff, because it feels like nobody understands what he is going through – if only he could make them understand like Cliff does. Matt knows he needs to save Cliff- but Cliff isn’t the only one who needs help.
Kate Foster’s books are quiet and meditative stories that centre around mental health, disabilities, and dogs – and that let us know that kids are just as affected by mental health issues as adults, which is what The Bravest Word is all about – the bravery to recognise mental health issues and being able to talk about it with the people closest to you. For Matt, letting his parents know is extremely hard, and this will resonate with many readers who find it hard to talk about mental health issues. It shows us that it is okay to be scared about talking about something like depression and anxiety, but that it is also okay to reach out and ask for help – that this can be the hardest thing we will do, and knowing we need help is an important first step in finding this help.
For Matt, finding Cliff gave him the strength to eventually talk to his parents and friends, and I loved the relationship he had with his father – and the way his friends from his soccer team came together to support him. It showed that people who really care won’t just leave you but support you. And the power of Cliff and Matt’s relationship really drove the narrative and showed that sometimes seeing another person of animal feeling anxiety and depression can help recognise it in yourself.
It is powerful because not only does it shine a light on depression and anxiety in kids but reveals that anyone can have these issues for any reason – or sometimes, no reason. Sometimes, you just have anxiety for no reason. The Bravest Word dispels the myth and assumption that you have to have a reason for being depressed and illustrates that when you have a great support community – whatever your age, it will help you get through anything, even when you feel like you may not.
Kate’s books are so touching and heart-wrenching and have the potential to bring a tear to the eye of the reader and make us whoop for joy when things work out for the character. It’s quiet books like this that help us work through our own emotions and what we are going through in our daily lives. Her books remind us that everyone is unique and different, and that it is okay to have autism, or depression, or have any sort of disability. She’s giving a voice to these people, through her own experiences, and illustrates that what she captures in her books are just one example of how depression – in the case of The Bravest Word – can manifest itself, and shows that we can be ourselves whilst still recognising issues we have whilst we seek help.
The Bravest Word is a triumph of speaking about depression to a young and old audience – it is one of those books that anyone can read, that everyone should have access to, and that will hopefully help lots of people work through their own mental health in effective ways.