10:00 am EDT, September 22, 2020

‘Solutions and Other Problems’ book review: The ‘Hyperbole and a Half’ follow-up you’ve been waiting for

Amidst all of the uncertainty in the world today, at least one thing is for sure: Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems is one of the best books of the year.

The follow up to 2013’s Hyperbole and a Half, Solutions and Other Problems is chock-full of personal stories that will make any reader laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. From tales of weird childhood antics to insights on feelings of powerlessness and stories of confronting vulnerabilities, Solutions and Other Problems touches on a lot of different facets of life in a way that’s wholly relatable.

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And, of course, on top of all of that, there’s over 1,600 new original illustrations to feast your eyes (and brains) upon. Some laugh-out-loud funny, others heart-breakingly sad, but all of them wonderful (and worth staring at to unpack all of the little details thrown in).

I read Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half before… Well, before everything, honestly. Her blog too. At least, that’s how it feels.

I read her blog and her posts before I really felt like an adult. I read it just after starting to write here at Hypable (Hyperbole and a Half was actually my 2013 Hypable Secret Santa gift that year from our fearless leader Andrew Sims) and before I realized the struggle of forming real, human connections as an adult. I read all of this before I realized just how absurd life could be and always had been.

Mostly though, I read Allie Brosh’s work before I, too, realized that I suffered from depression and anxiety pretty hard. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like she knew the full extent of her mental state at that point either. But I couldn’t help but to closely identify with her colorful depictions of trains of thought and questions of self. I’d never been able to really put into words how I felt or the things my brain was telling me, and her first novel (as well as her hilarious blog) made me feel seen. To this day, this book is one of my favorites of all time and is more than worthy of its spot on my “favorites” bookshelf in my bedroom.

Believe me when I say that I’ve been waiting for Solutions and Other Problems since 2013, constantly checking Goodreads and Amazon for publication date updates. I’d also checked Allie Brosh’s blog from time to time, completely unaware of everything that befell her after (and even in the lead up to) Hyperbole and a Half’s release. At least, until last year or so.

A heavy bout of severe depression, a serious cancer scare, the tragic death of her sister, even more depression, the dissolution of her marriage, even more anxiety and depression… My heart broke and continues to break for Allie Brosh.

Though it’s just as hilarious as I’d hoped it’d be, this book is hard to get through for a guilt-ridden empath like me. She doesn’t divulge everything that happened to her over the past seven years or so (nor did I expect her to), but Solutions and Other Problems very much dives into her feelings of loneliness, powerlessness, existentialism, and (you guessed it) her anxiety and depression, naming them all and making them feel tangible and relatable.

That’s what Allie Brosh does best, after all, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but here I am anyway. The way in which she distills just what it feels like to be lonely or realize that, in that loneliness, you are your only way out gives life and definition to things I’ve been struggling with for years. It doesn’t feel effortless by any means, as the painstaking detail and effort that goes into every image and line in this book is incredibly apparent, but it feels more logical.

'Solutions and Other Problems' by Allie Brosh

For so long, I’ve perceived my anxiety and depression-driven thoughts as illogical and as having no basis in reality. I’ve even dismissed the connections between thoughts, chalking everything up to my mental health state and branding it all lies.

But Solutions and Other Problems has changed the way I think about these processes. They’re not illogical at all. There are clear connections and paths that they take after they sprout from some insecurity or vulnerability. They’re logical. The logic is there. Otherwise Allie Brosh wouldn’t be able to create these stories around them and depict them in such clear ways. They may not be rational, but they’re logical.

While it may seem like splitting hairs and not that big of a distinction, viewing them in this new way thanks to Solutions and Other Problems makes all the difference. It allows for empathy and understanding, next steps and healing.

I’m not just waxing poetic about my own experiences here. Solutions and Other Problems is very much Allie Brosh’s way of accounting for all of the things that have happened to her over the past seven years, as well as her reactions to them, and working her way through them. Her stories in this volume are overwhelmingly not all sunshine and rainbows and Alots (if you’ve read her blog, you’ll get that reference), but even the heaviest and most heart-wrenching chapters have so much emotion and compassion with touches of humor dropped along the way. Reading these stories is like witnessing Allie Brosh reflect and try to heal in real time while also extending an empathetic hand out to all those who may also be struggling too.

I won’t lie: Her chapters about her sister (literally titled “Losing” and “Sister”) as well as those on the depths of her own mental health are a bit tough to read. This isn’t a book you’ll be able to read in one sitting because of all of the heavy emotions throughout.

But interlocked with these are beautiful stories of just trying and small personal triumphs. They cut the tension without cheapening the preceding or contextual heaviness.

And, I mean, her sketches and drawings are just wonderful throughout. Allie Brosh has such a distinct style that marries the absurd with the simple. I can’t tell you how many times I whipped out my phone to take photos of a page because of just how much I loved it. Now that I’ve read this all the way through, I look forward to going back again and really appreciating the imagery even more the second time around.

At a time where most of us would probably prefer to read uplifting and happy-all-the-time stories that allow us to turn off our brains and not do any work, Solutions and Other Problems demonstrates that there’s value in acknowledging and sitting with the hard stuff because that’s what makes us human. And while we may not have much else in common these days, at least we have that. Solutions and Other Problems takes everything you love about Hyperbole and a Half (both the book and the blog) and injects it with a large dose of vulnerability and existentialism.

For anyone who has ever felt alone in their own thoughts and experiences, or who has repeatedly failed their search for meaning in this random world, this book is for you. Equal parts hilarious and tear-jerking, Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems is well worth the wait and inevitable repeated readings. I love this book so much and I hope you will too.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, or Indiebound. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

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