The Bravest Word: Book Review

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There is so much talent in our Australian writing community. We are very lucky. The result is an overflowing to-be-read pile and a sense of security, knowing there is always a next read on the shelves in my house, always a door to other worlds and other people’s experiences of life.

I am going to begin sharing some of the books I am reading, starting with The Bravest Word – a rescue story of love and trust between a boy and a dog from the talented author of Paws – Kate Foster who I recently had a chat with on my blog in my #LoveAusAuthors series.

I’m lucky to have received an advance copy of The Bravest Word. I devoured it in a few days, during my daily half-an-hour sitting in the car under a tree, waiting at school pick-up. I cried. Numerous times. In the car. And was ultimately left uplifted and filled with warm feelings.

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 any more 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 brings her own experiences of depression to this story, which offers a deep, realistic insight into living with mental illness. As someone who has experienced depression, panic attacks and anxiety myself, I was immediately connected to Matt, as he suffers with overwhelming anxiety and panic, without knowing what is truly happening. My own first panic attacks went undiagnosed and I thought I must have had a terrible disease. I also connected strongly to Cliff the dog, our family having a rescue kelpie who lives with anxiety. Plus, any story with a dog makes me cry – I was banned from Lassie as a child!

According to Beyond Blue, half of all mental health conditions will have initially begun by age 14. Kate wanted to address this by writing a book about a boy grappling with his mental health and the support he receives, especially through the love of a dog and his family.

The book is told in first person and from the opening scene, I was right inside Matt’s mind and body, experiencing the confusion, panic and disconnectedness he was feeling. Kate cleverly weaves the thoughts of an almost 12-year-old boy, into the physical, emotional and mental aspects of depression. The relationship between Matt, his parents and Cliff, the dog nobody else wants, is real and genuine. I am not giving you any spoilers, but there are plenty of moments that readers of all ages will identify with.

Kate’s empathy and compassion are displayed in the narrative and the way she maintains a complete focus on Matt and his emotions, while still illustrating how the adults around him are dealing with his very difficult situation. The use of Cliff’s healing process to reflect Matt’s is lovely. Younger readers will enjoy the fact that Kate has centred the book in current times, using social media and digital storytelling as a tool for Matt to step towards healing. There are some laughs, some sadness and plenty of love. As with all good books, there is also a great story with a perfectly-paced narrative, that will take you towards the end with hope in your heart.

I highly recommend this book for all people aged from 10+. There are some difficult issues and emotions, which will open up opportunity for discussion with your children and young people. The very important point that speaking up and asking for help is brave, will be beneficial for anyone who has ever struggled with depression, or any other problem.

Add it to your list! All details here

Helen

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