Review: Hyperbole and a Half (book)

Book cover of Hyperbole and a HalfYou may have seen me talk about Allie Brosh before, especially if you also follow me on Tumblr or Twitter. Her work also inspired the post ‘[S]hitty drawings are funny‘ – title drawn from her FAQ page, explaining her choice of a childish style of art for her comics. She’s basically become a major hero for me, and for everyone else I know who suffers from depression. Her posts, ‘Adventures in Depression‘, ‘Depression Part Two‘, and ‘This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult‘ should be mandatory reading for anyone who has never had a mental illness trying to understand someone who has, and prescribed reading for those of us who suffer from depression.

She doesn’t solely write about her depression. Many of her stories are delightful tales of a mischievous childhood. Such as ‘Menace‘, the story of what happened when her parents gave her a dinosaur costume, or ‘The God of Cake‘, the story of the amazing cake her mother made, which Allie felt compelled to gain access to and consume. She also writes touching tales of the ‘Simple Dog‘ and the ‘Helper Dog‘ (Simple Dog pictured with her on the cover above), and her and her boyfriend’s kind, but often despairing efforts to look after them.

I care about this alot

Allie speculates that the common spelling error ‘alot’ refers to a large, confused-looking beast.

In addition to her person life stories, she also makes comics that are just plain funny. You may recognise her work from such memes as the ‘Alot‘, ‘x ALL the ys’ (based on one of the drawings in ‘This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult’), and ‘Internet Forever’ (ditto). She also collaborated on a video for ‘Sueeve Shower Products for Men‘, based on her original post ‘How to make Showering Awesome Again‘. Which you should all watch, because it is hilarious.

Clean ALL the things!

An excerpt from one of Allies comics which is frequently adapted to substitute other things for ‘clean’ and ‘things’.

All of which is to say that I’m a fan, and, actually, half the Internet is a fan, they probably just don’t realise that they’re a fan of memes that were based on her artwork. I’ve been a fan for years, and had been eagerly anticipating the release of her book. Whilst she was writing her book, Allie’s blog went silent for quite a long time. I was aware that she struggled with depression, but I nevertheless assumed that at least part of it was that the book was requiring a lot of her attention. In 2010 she made 78 posts, in 2011 she made only 5. The last of which was ‘Adventures in Depression’, followed by ‘Depression Part Two’ in 2013. Allie had been depressed for a long time, and severely so – she had contemplated suicide.

What it's like talking to non-depressed people about depression.

What it’s like talking to non-depressed people about depression.

Nevertheless, Allie had completed her book, and she could see the light at the end of the depression tunnel again. You might have thought that a two year gap in posting might obliterate your fanbase, but not so, for Allie. The Internet exploded with outpourings of shared emotion in response to ‘Depression Part Two’. She talked about aspects of depression that nobody ever talked about – and there are a LOT of people talking about depression on the Internet, these days. I’m one of them. She talked about the things I was afraid to talk about. The things my friends who are also depressed had not mentioned as a part of the experience. And she expressed it just so. And with the wit, humour, and poignancy that has made her the type of blogger who can post nothing for two years and still command the attention of the Internet.

Allie Broshon suicideI have never wanted to buy a book based solely off what I’ve seen on the Internet so badly. I wanted to have the book, and I wanted to support Allie. I wanted her to be a success because she deserves it, but I also wanted her to know how important her words are to so many people. A friend of mine asked on Twitter a while back for recommendations of things to give to mentally healthy people to explain depression to them. I said immediately ‘Allie Brosh’s Depression, parts one and two’, and he said ‘Of course! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that, that’s perfect’. Because it is. There are so many different ways to experience depression, and often that can make it difficult to explain, because one person can give their symptoms, and they won’t match those of another whose feelings are just as valid. But that’s not the case with Allie. I mean, sure, she has some symptoms I don’t and vice versa, but I don’t know anyone who has depression who has read her posts who didn’t identify strongly with the core of what she was saying, or find that she was saying something they themselves had struggled to put into words. In particular, the struggle of talking to non-depressed people about how you feel seems to have hit home. How you end up having to try to protect their emotions, because they will become distressed at hearing how you are, even though how you are is just normal for you, and their distress just becomes something extra you have to manage. And how the way everyone seems to think they can solve your problems with simple and utterly irrelevant answers.

I’ve had a hard time, lately. A financially insecure time. I wanted to buy her book, but wasn’t sure I could excuse the expense, so I asked for it for Christmas. And I got it. And I’m so glad. It has been such a comfort.

Of course, it contains many stories I have read before. It’s wonderful to own them in such a colourful, physical edition that I can just flip through whenever I need them. But it also has many that I haven’t read before: delightful, funny, witty, insightful. Sometimes, when I’ve been very low, it was all I could do to just lie there in bed, and there was Allie’s book. Within arms reach. Full of such comfort and delight. The childlike, primitive, style of her drawings is so easy to identify with. For we are all children inside – confronted constantly with the confusion and wonder of the world, at sea in a world that expects us to have found some sort of secret ‘adult’ perspective. We are brought back to the powerful and clean emotions of childhood: enthusiasm for life and despair at its challenges, and it allows us to see that those emotions are still with us, under the layers of adult behaviour and requirements. Whether you have depression and need the connection that tells you that other people feel this way, too; or you don’t, and you need to connect to loved ones who do, Allie’s unique style somehow captures a perspective that is easy for anyone to relate to.

I’d give a copy to everyone I know if I could (and if I didn’t know some of them would be put off by the swearing). This book is just… a gift to the world.

I know I’ve mostly talked about parts of it you can already go read online, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises of the bits you can’t. And they’re just as good. Just as delightful. Just as spirit-lifting. I don’t know how else to convey how wonderful and important this book is. Go buy it. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for those you love. Everyone should read and share the experiences of this book.

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One Response to Review: Hyperbole and a Half (book)

  1. Heath Graham says:

    Good stuff! It’s on my List. Allie is amazing.

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