“When I was ten years old, I wrote a letter to my future self and buried it in my backyard. Seventeen years later, I remembered that I was supposed to dig it up two years earlier.
“I looked forward to getting a nostalgic glimpse into my childhood–perhaps I would marvel at my own innocence or see the first glimmer of my current aspirations. As it turns out, it just made me feel real weird about myself.”
– Opening of Hyperbole and a Half
Hyperbole and a Half is a cross between a memoir and a graphic novel. Organized into a series of vignettes that often read like comedy sketches, it covers such diverse topics as the author’s childhood, the joys and difficulties of dog ownership, and struggles with self-improvement, motivation, and depression.
The writing is intertwined with drawings that can appear comically amateurish, particularly when it comes to the author’s depiction of herself with stick arms and a triangle of blond hair sticking up like a party hat, but the author is clearly an expert of the style, making the visual jokes land just as well if not better than those based in text. It reminds me of a friend who jokingly prides himself in his ability to use Microsoft Paint, except that Allie Brosh could certainly draw circles around him in her software of choice. Something about taking a simple tool or a simple art style and turning it into something really impressive is charming to me, and, in this case, that certainly added to the book’s ability to make me laugh.
And this book did make me laugh, from the introduction to the About the Author section on the back cover flap. I laughed out loud more times than I can count. Every time I finished one story, I was eager for the next.
In terms of substance, I also appreciated the honest depiction of another person’s life and perspective on the world. The section related to the author’s struggles with depression, while certainly not the most light-hearted, was one of my favorites because of how clearly it depicted a true experience that many people could relate to and yet was entirely unique. Depression is too often misunderstood, and one aspect of that, I think, is that people forget that not everyone experiences it in the same way. Other types of misunderstanding are more common, and I loved the way this section depicted the author’s well-meaning friends and loved ones and explained how their words and actions were received by her depressive mind. It’s natural to want to help, and it’s the unfortunate reality of depression that it’s extremely difficult to know how. This section alone, in my opinion, provides enormous value in a way that’s very easy to absorb.
My biggest criticism for this book is the language in the first section about the author’s dog, which I personally found distasteful. There is also swearing scattered throughout, so I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t care for that style of humor. If you only want to avoid the r word, though, just skip the second story. The rest of the book calls the dog “simple”, and you won’t have any trouble understanding anything that follows.
With those caveats, I would recommend this book to just about anybody else. It’s an incredibly enjoyable read, great for a laugh, and definitely kept my interest. For anyone who has a friend or loved one going through depression–or, heck, anyone who has the awareness that they might someday–I would highly recommend reading the section related to depression, even if you skip the rest of the book entirely. I don’t know why you would, though. If that’s the sort of mission you’re on, you probably deserve a smile and a laugh.