Solutions and Other Problems

by Allie Brosh

Cover image

Publisher: Gallery Books
Copyright: September 2020
ISBN: 1-9821-5694-5
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 519

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Solutions and Other Problems is the long-awaited second volume of Allie Brosh's work, after the amazing Hyperbole and a Half. The first collection was a mix of original material and pieces that first appeared on her blog. This is all new work, although one of the chapters is now on her blog as a teaser.

As with all of Brosh's previous work, Solutions and Other Problems is mostly drawings (in her highly original, deceptively simple style) with a bit of prose in between. It's a similar mix of childhood stories, off-beat interpretations of day-to-day life, and deeper and more personal topics. But this is not the same type of book as Hyperbole and a Half, in a way that is hard to capture in a review.

When this book was postponed and then temporarily withdrawn, I suspected that something had happened to Brosh. I was hoping that it was just the chaos of her first book publication, but, sadly, no. We find out about some of what happened in Solutions and Other Problems, in varying amounts of detail, and it's heart-wrenching. That by itself gives the book a more somber tone.

But, beyond that, I think Solutions and Other Problems represents a shift in mood and intention. The closest I can come to it is to say that Hyperbole and a Half felt like Brosh using her own experiences as a way to tell funny stories, and this book feels like Brosh using funny stories to talk about her experiences. There are still childhood hijinks and animal stories mixed in, but even those felt more earnest, more sad, and less assured or conclusive. This is in no way a flaw, to be clear; just be aware that if you were expecting more work exactly like Hyperbole and a Half, this volume is more challenging and a bit more unsettling.

This does not mean Brosh's trademark humor is gone. Chapter seventeen, "Loving-Kindness Exercise," is one of the funniest things I've ever read. "Neighbor Kid" captures my typical experience of interacting with children remarkably well. And there are, of course, more stories about not-very-bright pets, including a memorable chapter ("The Kangaroo Pig Gets Drunk") on just how baffling our lives must be to the animals around us. But this book is more serious, even when there's humor and absurdity layered on top, and anxiety felt like a constant companion.

As with her previous book, many of the chapters are stories from Brosh's childhood. I have to admit this is not my favorite part of Brosh's work, and the stories in this book in particular felt a bit less funny and somewhat more uncomfortable and unsettling. This may be a very individual reaction; you can judge your own in advance by reading "Richard," the second chapter of the book, which Brosh posted to her blog. I think it's roughly typical of the childhood stories here.

The capstone of Hyperbole and a Half was Brosh's fantastic two-part piece on depression, which succeeded in being hilarious and deeply insightful at the same time. I think the capstone of Solutions and Other Problems is the last chapter, "Friend," which is about being friends with yourself. For me, it was a good encapsulation of both the merits of this book and the difference in tone. It's less able to find obvious humor in a psychological struggle, but it's just as empathetic and insightful. The ending is more ambiguous and more conditional; the tone is more wistful. It felt more personal and more raw, and therefore a bit less generalized. Her piece on depression made me want to share it with everyone I knew; this piece made me want to give Brosh a virtual hug and tell her I'm glad she's alive and exists in the world. That about sums up my reaction to this book.

I bought Solutions and Other Problems in hardcover because I think this sort of graphic work benefits from high-quality printing, and I was very happy with that decision. Gallery Books used heavy, glossy paper and very clear printing. More of the text is outside of the graphic panels than I remember from the previous book. I appreciated that; I thought it made the stories much easier to read. My one quibble is that Brosh does use fairly small lettering in some of the panels and the color choices and the scrawl she uses for stylistic reasons sometimes made that text difficult for me to read. In those few places, I would have appreciated the magnifying capabilities of reading on a tablet.

I don't think this is as good as Hyperbole and a Half, but it is still very good and very worth reading. It's harder reading, though, and you'll need to brace yourself more than you did before. If you're new to Brosh, start with Hyperbole and a Half, or with the blog, but if you liked those, read this too.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2021-02-17

Last modified and spun 2021-02-18