Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem and Other Things That Happened.

Written by: Allie Brosh

Published in: 2013

Synopsis: In a four-color, illustrated collection of stories and essays, Allie Brosh’s debut Hyperbole and a Half chronicles the many “learning experiences” Brosh has endured as a result of her own character flaws, and the horrible experiences that other people have had to endure because she was such a terrible child. Possibly the worst child. For example, one time she ate an entire cake just to spite her mother.

Challenges: Memoir for Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge


"For me motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it."

Books made from blogs are not something I usually go in for. I mean, it typically means paying for content you've already read online for free so why bother? But when I saw Hyperbole and a Half on Netgalley I figured why not, it's free and I only read the blog sporadically, so it'll hopefully be stuff I've never read. And you guys, I loved it.

On the off chance you've never read Hyperbole and a Half, it's the blog of Allie Brosch. She combines humourous and hyperbolic personal anecdotes with illustrations she makes in paint. Oh and she's responsible for this meme.

 Like I said, I only read her blog sporadically, so I came to all of the content in this book with new eyes. I did recognise a chapter on depression from her blog, but without searching for it I don't know if it's reproduced in its entirety or if it was altered and added to for the book. But everything else was new (to me) and awesome. So much of it is so silly and ridiculous and Allie has such a knack for comedic writing and timing, I laughed out loud a lot, and i'm not to kind of person that laughs out loud that often when I read.

The book shifts from insane anecdotes about Allie's childhood to thoughtful essays about depression and suicide. I'm sure that hardly sounds giggle-inducing, and some of it isn't, but even the darkest most heartbreaking moments are broken by glimpses of levity. For instance, after discussing a consuming depression that overtook Allie for several months she mentions how after months of feeling nothing, she ended up impervious to her normal fears and anxieties of social interactions and began to feel like a superhero, a superhero who can buy 10 packets of skittles and rent out 6 horror movies and no longer worry what the guy at the counter thinks.
"But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there's a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck."
"And that's the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn't always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn't even something - it's nothing. And you combat nothing. You can't fill it up. You can't cover it. It's just there, pulling the meaning out of everything." 
And when you accompany this story with one of her comics, I don't know, it just works so well. It's thoughtful and honest and personal and darkly funny and it's why people love Hyperbole and a Half so much.

As good as these more serious essays were, my favourites were definitely the humourous ones about Allie as a kid and her two dogs, Simple Dog and Helper Dog. They're probably the kinds of stories I expect when I think about Hyperbole and a Half, they're outrageous, funny and the illustrations add so much to an already great story. Stories about kids always crack me up, they're just the weirdest bundles of creative insanity. I'm the person who will ask your parents for stories about you, because I love hearing about teeny tiny X and the batshit crazy things they used to do.
"You can't take your clothes of and hide in the corner hoping no one notices. You can't trick the teachers into letting you be naked by burying yourself in the sandbox - your clothes are in a pile next to you. They know."
The best of the lot was about little Allie's obsession with cake and sugar and the extreme lengths she went to to get hold of the birthday cake her mum made for her grandpa's birthday. It's utterly charming and hilarious, although I feel for her parents, little Allie must have been exhausting!

This is a short book, I read it over a lazy afternoon with Seinfeld breaks, and it still didn't take longer than 2 hours or so to read. I don't know if it's because I had an ARC or if it'll be the case with all digital editions, but the illustrations were teeny tiny, and since they're such an integral part of the Hyperbole and a Half personality that was a bit of a bummer. So perhaps hunt out a physical copy* if you can, or sample it first and make sure the pictures are of a decent size. It's funny, thoughtful, honest and there is a scene where Allie and her boyfriend are terrorised by a goose in their house so you know it's worth checking out.

*Sarah read a physical copy of this book and seemed pretty impressed by the images/layout, so maybe that's the way to go.

*All images are screenshots from the book and remain the property of Allie Brosch.*


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