Arts

Image: Solutions and Other Problems/Dasser Kamran

Former blogger Allie Brosh’s poignant new book is like visiting an old friend.

Twelve-year-old Aly was fucking weird.

She spent a lot of time listening to showtunes and playing Doodle Jump. Suburban American middle school was nurturing what would later become an extremely problematic relationship with food. She didn’t have a lot of friends. She loved to write.

She, as an only child with working parents, also spent hours upon hours on the Internet each day.

I wish I could tell you how I first encountered Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh’s now-dormant online blog (which Brosh then adapted into a best-selling book in 2013). But I can tell you with absolute certainty that I spent many, many pre-teen years scrolling through that blog’s archives for hours on end, screeching with laughter at Brosh’s witty, unpolished writing. 

A lot of popular early-2010s memes came from that blog – the Alot, for instance, and the “clean all the things!” template – but before they were memes, they were personal reflections on everyday life as an escape from mental illness and encroaching rural poverty. Brosh’s memory of her childhood and early adolescence sounded eerily similar to my own, and I saw her blog as a template for survival: her work proved a value in writing, a necessity in correct grammar, a subversion of societal norms that could be anywhere from amusing to laugh-out-loud funny. She was a role model for me, albeit a weird one.

I emailed Brosh once when I was twelve, and for the sake of my own dignity won’t share the contents of that email here. But you’d better believe I told her I was twelve. Several times. In one email.

Brosh later stopped posting as frequently, and then at all. It became clear that she’d been struggling with depression – once more, our paths seemed parallel – and needed a break from the Internet. With the boom of her first book came her complete disappearance from all things digital; she left the public eye for nearly seven years. In that time, I grew up, got a better taste in music, moved to Canada, and kept on writing – but I never forgot Brosh or our time “together.”

Imagine twenty-two-year-old Aly’s delight at the surprise drop of Brosh’s new book, Solutions and Other Problems, a massive, glossy-page tome full of brand-new content.

Flipping through this book really does feel like visiting an old friend. Brosh’s drawings have gotten a little more polished over the years, but they haven’t lost their MS Paint charm. The monster in the pink dress with the yellow shark-fin ponytail is still here, still ruminating on everything from childhood impishness to the grim realities of a 2020 adulthood.

Brosh reveals in Solutions and Other Problems some of the reasons she stepped away from her online life: the death of her sister, divorce (both her own and her parents’), medical worries, geographic relocation. Brosh has had a rough go of it.

Yet the book doesn’t sink into any one trauma for too long; after a chapter or two of real, difficult life, we return to stories of misbehaved dogs and ridiculous grocery store fights. Some might call this effective pacing, and it is: it mirrors the ups-and-downs of real life. But it doesn’t feel like a structural tool while reading; it just feels natural. 

Solutions and Other Problems doesn’t feel at all like Brosh is trying to excuse her too-long absence from the Internet. The book is instead more proof of Allie having lived the storied life she’s lived – an archive of sorts.

It’s a humble and extremely touching offering from a self-proclaimed “recluse,” and we feel like we’re being let in on an inside joke the entire way through. For despite Brosh’s self-deprecating humour and stark candor with regards to grief and its effect on the mind and body, there is, for better or worse, a certain resilience that shines through Brosh’s writing. It’s not quite a joy, but an acceptance of what we expect life to be like as children juxtaposed against how it really turns out in the face of taxes and death and self-doubt.

Allie Brosh’s website was a safe place for me growing up, and then again in high school when her book hit shelves (though selfishly at the time, I felt a little bummed that I’d now have to share what I’d known to be the brilliance of her work with the rest of the world). Now, I’m thrilled to see Brosh continuing to tell stories and continuing to do so with the scrappy drawings that made the world fall in love with her the first time around. Solutions and Other Problems is a perfect sequel, one that continues Brosh’s thematic threads but also introduces new questions on the nature of being and dogs.

I feel once more like I have a safe place during these disquieting political times, and for that I cannot thank Brosh enough. All I can do is recommend her new book, fully and without hesitation, to anyone going through a rough patch right now. It is restorative in ways that transcend its cartoonish form, and is a welcome return to the digital stage for the elusive Allie Brosh.