Hyperbole and a Half is a 2013 book by Allie Brosh, compiling anecdotes of “unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened,” from her childhood and adult life. The book adapts her web comic/blog of the same name: text along with intentionally crude drawings done in Paintbrush. Along with seven and a half reader favourite stories included within, there are ten and a half original stories — half because one story is old, but with new content.
Prior to reading Brosh’s book I think I had only really read her blog once, but I nonetheless easily recognized the adaptation of herself present in her stories, as it has reached widespread recognition as an Internet meme. As a fan of content made intentionally crude for the sake of humour, Brosh’s style appealed to me immediately. Once the book became accessible to me, I knew I had to read it.
Each story was very humorously written with art that didn’t disappoint, continuously managing to be wonderfully expressive despite its minimalism. What I found best about them is they aren’t just silly, but tap into something relatable about everyday life and experience. Whether it’s the nigh-insanity of early childhood experiences, mundane endeavors, or the struggles of everyday adult life, they’re all injected with something that feels raw and sincere. These are Brosh’s stories, but they also reflect life in general, whether they be similar to my own experiences or how I imagine such things to be.
Of particular note, I found the stories about her dogs to be especially endearing. As someone who has grown up with numerous dogs I feel she managed to hilariously capture both the emoting and quirks of dog behaviour, as well as an owner’s perception of their personality. While certain sections covered more substantial subjects, the stories about her dogs will always stand out for me.
What came as a big surprise to me was just how impactful her stories about personal issues turned out to be. While some stories are mostly cute and funny, they are all quite brutally honest in what they share. It would appear that Brosh lays pretty much everything out for the reader to see, which I have a lot of respect for. The most noteworthy of these instances is “Depression” parts one and two, which she has been lauded for by both sufferers and experts as doing a brilliant articulation of what severe depression is like. The art style is still silly, but never in a way that seems to take the subject matter lightly. It is especially effective since the hyperbolic images are contrasted with text of a more serious tone, making her experiences easier to mentally digest and relate to.
Another two-part section called “Identity,” deals with how Brosh wants herself to be versus how she really is. I found these stories to be potent in how they more vastly relate to all people. These are a pair of stories that don’t paint her in the best of light, but it’s a level of honesty I once again respect and a mindset I can’t really blame her for. While Brosh specifically depicts herself as more negative —apparently realizing she is someone who tries to do good things for selfish reasons — I’d be hard-pressed to argue that most people don’t suffer from behaviour like this often, or even every day.
Everybody struggles with issues of identity to some degree — the person we are perceived as often being different than how we perceive ourselves — and figuring out who we are and who we want to be is a constant challenge. The fact that Brosh was willing to showcase this publicly, despite the negativity around it, is commendable.
If you want to read something cute and silly that will make you laugh as well as think, I highly recommend Hyperbole and a Half. Sometimes light and charming, and at other times darkly humorous, the book is a great piece of both visual and written art. To me it represents a strong example of how the best humour isn’t nonsensical alone, but deals with real issues in a humorous and insightful way.