Title: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program
She was the first person to see me as I had always wanted to be seen. It was enough to indebt me to her forever.
In the male-dominated field of animation, Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses are a dynamic duo, the friction of their differences driving them: Sharon, quietly ambitious but self-doubting; Mel, brash and unapologetic, always the life of the party. Best friends and artistic partners since the first week of college, where they bonded over their working-class roots and obvious talent, they spent their twenties ensconced in a gritty Brooklyn studio. Working, drinking, laughing. Drawing: Mel, to understand her tumultuous past, and Sharon, to lose herself altogether.
Now, after a decade of striving, the two are finally celebrating the release of their first full-length feature, which transforms Mel’s difficult childhood into a provocative and visually daring work of art. The toast of the indie film scene, they stand at the cusp of making it big. But with their success come doubt and destruction, cracks in their relationship threatening the delicate balance of their partnership. Sharon begins to feel expendable, suspecting that the ever-more raucous Mel is the real artist. During a trip to Sharon’s home state of Kentucky, the only other partner she has ever truly known—her troubled, charismatic childhood best friend, Teddy—reenters her life, and long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.
A funny, heartbreaking novel of friendship, art, and trauma, The Animators is about the secrets we keep and the burdens we shed on the road to adulthood.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker is an engrossing novel that explores the deep bond of friendship between two women who are also business partners.
Throughout her childhood, Sharon Kisses lost herself in cartoons in an effort to keep loneliness at bay while dreaming of escaping her small Kentucky town. Winning a scholarship to a prestigious college in Upper New York is her ticket to freedom and while she still feels like an outsider, she is enjoying the opportunity to hone her artistic skills. Striking up an unlikely friendship with vibrant and gregarious Mel Vaught is a huge turning point in her life and following college, the two women become business partners. It takes ten years of hard work, but they are finally attaining professional success after their first full-length animated project, based on Mel’s childhood, garners them a prestigious grant for their next as yet undetermined project. As Mel begins to self-destruct during a publicity tour, Sharon experiences self-doubt about her role in their partnership. Dual tragedies strike and the women’s friendship is tested as they begin working on their next project.
Both Mel and Sharon carry the scars from their dysfunctional childhoods but the two women cannot be more different. Mel is the outgoing, brash life of the party while Sharon is quiet and rather introspective. Neither have quite come to terms with the damage wrought by their respective pasts but they deal with their emotional pain in very different ways. Mel drinks heavily and self-medicates with a number of legal and illegal substances. Sharon is the responsible one who tries to reel in her out of control friend with varying degrees of success. She is also a bit of a follower who often finds herself swept up into Mel’s craziness.
In the aftermath of a health crisis, Mel prods Sharon into confronting the demons of her past. During their visit to Kentucky, Mel persuades her friend to renew her acquaintance with her childhood friend, Teddy Caudill. Teddy abruptly moved away when they were still children, but a traumatic incident involving him still haunts Sharon. After their reunion, Sharon and Teddy unexpectedly fall in love but will their relationship survive after he uncovers the truth about Sharon and Mel’s current project?
Written in first person from Sharon’s perspective, The Animators is a spellbinding exploration of friendship and professional collaboration between two damaged but very appealing characters. Although portions of the story are easy to predict, the overall storyline is refreshingly unique and quite engaging. This outstanding debut by Kayla Rae Whitaker is an emotional story of friendship that will linger in readers’ hearts long after the last page is turned.