Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
When I got notification that Allie Brosh’s book was available on NetGalley for reviews, I may have left a smoking trail through cyberspace trying to get there to request a copy. To my own surprise, I received one. In a single train ride home I devoured this book. As such, I must admit that I might not be the most unbiased of readers.
For readers coming from Brosh’s popular blog of the same name, much of the material will feel familiar. This is not an entirely new book of essays and never before seen information. Brosh’s most popular “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS” post, for example, appears as well as some other familiar essays. There is new material, however, and a chance to have some of these best posts gathered together is no bad thing.
Brosh has written a part memoir, part introspective chat, balancing honest and slightly cringeworthy childhood reflections, stark and poignant details of her difficulties with depression, and tears-running-down-your-face-from-laughing stories about her crazy dogs. While the stories don’t follow any particular path, the mix of subjects and balance of humor versus reflection keeps the reader moving along; allowing a breath and smile between some of the more difficult moments.
The chapters about her depression are incredibly difficult, whether you’ve experienced depression yourself or seen it in others. Brosh’s essays are unapologetically raw, taking the reader through the initial disengagement, into the levels of self-recrimination and anger and overwhelming sorrow and then down further into complete apathy and finally to the edge of suicide contemplation. There is no glamorization or glorification, only the clear depiction of the challenges. Her frustration with the extra-happy-hope-filled people around her and the vacuousness of the words streaming around her is apparent. That she was able to finish the essay from a slightly more positive perspective gives hope to the reader in a different way–a way that “snap out of it” and various other commands or platitudes cannot offer.
Brosh’s stories of her childhood are a little cringeworthy, in that you-made-your-parents’-lives-crazy kind of way. Misinterpretations of children abound, by the child herself or by the adults around her, and a clear fascination with dogs.
And Brosh’s stories of her dogs and her other miscellaneous essays will make you laugh. Brosh does not have smart dogs and their trials through moving, learning what the word “no” means, or the indignity of wearing doggie mittens indoors are wonderfully rich moments of laughter. She unabashedly documents the attack of a goose one night and reminds us why we’ll never be adults.
Brosh leaves her readers with some self-reflection that mirrors a little too clearly not the major challenges in our world but the little beliefs we have in our heads. Her embrace of the minutia points out identity challenges many of us face but had not yet found words for.
With her highly accessible voice and instantly recognizable cartoons, Brosh’s book will be welcomed by her regular readers and will hopefully find new audiences in those who might not want to wade through the blog archives.
Now, I need to go answer ALL THE EMAIL.