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Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

The caricature she uses to depict herself might look a little like an elongated marshmallow in a pink sac with twigs for legs, but her wide eyes and hooky fingers manage to portray more feeling than some artists capture in photo-realistic works.

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By Dessa Bayrock (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: January 8, 2014

Hyperbole and a HalfI don’t remember the first time I stumbled across Allie Brosh’s blog, but I clearly remember my confusion: while her artwork is rendered entirely in MS Paint (in eye-wincing pixellated glory), the comics and stories she tells through the images are both hilarious and heartfelt. It also becomes apparent that there is true skill behind the seemingly quick sketches, no matter how primitive. The caricature she uses to depict herself might look a little like an elongated marshmallow in a pink sac with twigs for legs, but her wide eyes and hooky fingers manage to portray more feeling than some artists capture in photo-realistic works.

If you’ve spent a decent amount of time on the internet, you’ll probably recognize her work from the “ALL THE THINGS!” meme in which that same pink-swathed marshmallow figure brandishes a broom — internet fame at its finest. Her self-deprecating humour and unabashed social awkwardness, not to mention her love of dogs and fear of geese, endeared her to an audience spanning the globe.

Brosh’s popularity and cozy spot in pop culture remained constant, even when her blog posts grew shorter and shorter and finally stopped altogether, with no indication of when readers could expect more.

Finally, the Hyperbole and a Half radio silence was broken with one of Brosh’s longest posts to date. Surprisingly, the content didn’t revolve around dogs or embarrassing childhood stories, themes many of her posts accurately and inexplicably captured, but something else entirely.

Depression.

“Some people have a legitimate reason to feel depressed, but not me. I just woke up one day feeling arbitrarily sad and helpless,” she wrote.

The post follows her journey through depression, from its seemingly random beginning to an even more arbitrary end. It is honest, witty, and absolutely perfectly depicts the random, senseless nature of depression; those who suffer from mental illness can’t always find reasoning behind the way they feel, and definitely aren’t able to control what they’re feeling.

She interprets depression for those who have never experienced it, and speaks for those who suffer silently. Her unabashed solid-coloured comic panes, as clever and blunt as always, pull no punches and drag the reader through exactly what it feels like to wake up and be unable to get out of bed without any good reason.

After this post, her popularity sprang even further through the roof, resulting in a book version of her now award-winning blog. The two share a fair amount of content as well as the title: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. A lot of the book’s content is directly pulled from the blog, with posts presented as chapters — all, of course, presented in the same beloved, MS Paint-ed images. This works surprisingly well, even when it leaps off the screen and into a book; the content has become classic internet literature, appealing to new and old readers alike. The stories (with titles such as “Helper Dog is an Asshole,” and “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult”) are witty, clever, and hilarious. The book also includes new content — a sort of Easter egg for those already familiar with Hyperbole and a Half — as well as the more thoughtful (but still somehow hilarious and lovely) “Depression.” This nugget of absolute honesty is the anchor for the book; Brosh approaches a heavy topic with trademark stubbornness and clarity, demystifying the taboo of mental health.

The only criticism I have is my fault, rather than the book’s: as with many short story collections, the book is better when tackled over time, rather than in a single sitting. After reading more than two or three chapters in a row, both humour and the unrelenting block images begin to grate on the eyes. After all, this is a blog — and a book — designed for an ADD internet generation. Just take the book in bite-sized pieces, and nobody gets hurt.

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