The Bravest Word by Kate Foster
Kate Foster follows Paws, her well-received novel for children with The Bravest Word (Walker Books). This book is about a boy who is finding life difficult and discovers that he depression. Kate writes engagingly and with authenticity to create empathy and understanding.
Kate is a brave and talented author and here writes about The Bravest Word for ‘Joy in Books’ at PaperbarkWords:
Why did I write about childhood depression?
There are a lot of books out there which centre children with mental health issues. From anxiety to depression to OCD. And that’s truly awesome. These books need to exist, they need to be available in libraries and on shelves, and they need to be accessible to kids when they ask for them. Just like exciting adventure, madcap humour, and thrilling dystopian. They deserve their place on these shelves.
Life batters us with shock lows and trauma regularly, and no one is immune. Children are affected in ways we often don’t recognise or see until it’s too late. They may not have the vocabulary or life experience to describe how they feel and what’s going on inside them. Their struggles may show in their behaviour, maybe as being rebellious or isolating. And since society still doesn’t accept mental illness in the same way it does physical illness, stigma, shame, and embarrassment also stand in their way. We can’t take their resilience for granted.
So, to start, this is one of the reasons I wrote The Bravest Word – a story other children can see themselves in or understand what their friends or family members might be going through.
But there is another reason why I wrote about depression in the way I did.
My other books star autistic kids being brilliant and living normal lives. So, not a book about their autism struggles or how they overcome their disability. Nor a book about the kindness of others who accept them into their circles. Certainly not a book about how autism is a superpower. And not a book about them being a burden to family members, how their meltdowns and therapy are overwhelming and time consuming, or how the care they require forces their loved ones to act wildly.
Books, as well as TV shows and movies, which centre autistic children, nine times out of ten fall into one of these categories listed above. And that’s simply not fair. We need more books that star autistic kids, in fact all disabled kids, doing fun stuff, living fulfilling lives, and being loved and accepted no matter what.
However, when I was thinking about writing a character with depression, most of the books I read didn’t necessarily centre their mental illness, it was more a facet of their being. The story would show their daily struggles but were usually about the character striving to succeed in enjoyable tasks and experiences despite their mental health.
I wondered about the kids who haven’t got that far, who don’t yet have a diagnosis or someone to talk to about their feelings and struggles, who know their behaviour is off but aren’t sure why, and who might be experiencing disturbing intrusive thoughts. I wondered about the parents, siblings, teachers, all the ordinary every day adults trying their best for the kids in their lives who aren’t trained professionals, who don’t know how to deal with serious mental illness, the signs to look for, or the words not to say. I wondered about someone like me, who is always trying to fix, find a bright side, and the answers to everyone’s problems.
Ultimately, I couldn’t find many books at all that took the experience that far back, to the very beginning of mental illness. So, I wrote one.
The drafting process was in part therapy, having not long before been through my own traumas and gathered my own diagnoses. I understood that the background of someone like me, who came from and now has their own loving family, could just as easily fall victim to such a vicious illness and have no idea why. Oh, the guilt. There are sometimes no whys, no reasons, no obvious answers. It just is.
The Bravest Word is not about the why’s or how’s or the “let’s fix it together and you’ll be fine”. It’s about the recognition, the acceptance, the cruelty, the realities, and the power of asking for help.