Kayla Rae Whitaker
From age eighteen on, I had a partner, a kindred spirit. I had a friend. Someone bound and determined to keep me from the worst in myself.
At a private East Coast college, two young women meet in art class. Sharon, ambitious but lacking confidence, arrives from rural Kentucky. Mel, brash and wildly gifted, brings her own brand of hellfire from the backwaters of Florida. Both outsiders, Sharon and Mel become fervent friends, bonding over their love of classic cartoons, their dysfunctional working-class families, and - above all - their craft: drawing. Mel, to understand her tumultuous past, and Sharon, to lose herself altogether.
A decade later, Sharon and Mel are an award-winning animation duo, living and working in Brooklyn, and poised on the edge of even greater success after the release of their first full-length feature. But with this success comes self-doubt and cracks in their relationship start to form. When unexpected tragedy strikes, long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.
Funny and heartbreaking by turn, The Animators is a dazzling story of female friendship, the cost of a creative life, and the secrets that can undo us.
When Sharon Kisses and Mel Vaught meet in college they bond instantly. Sharon is straight-laced and introspective; Mel manic and the life of any party. Both are from the rural south, East Kentucky and Central Florida respectively, both visual art majors with obvious talent. They share the same unquenchable thirst for cartoons and comics, and know what they want to do for the rest of their lives: ‘Animate. What else is there?’.
Kayla Rae Whitaker’s debut novel The Animators follows these two fascinating, flawed women over the course of the next decade. Theirs is both a firm friendship and a creative partnership – intense, and often fraught. While the initial chapters take some time to set up their dynamic, the novel picks up pace once Sharon and Mel are in their early thirties, now an accomplished animation team outgrowing their underground roots after the widespread success of their first full-length feature.
There is so much to adore about The Animators. Whitaker displays a remarkable talent for dialogue, describing works of visual art and establishing a sense of place. From suburban Kentucky to the Florida backwaters, it’s refreshing to see rural America written with such depth and compassion. The novel raises numerous interesting ideas, from ethical dilemmas about the creative process (such as the right for an artist to tell other people’s stories) to questions around the reliability of memory.
Above all else, this is an exquisite portrait of a life-defining partnership, written with nuance and insight. Sharon and Mel are two of the most dynamic, original characters I’ve met in fiction and it was a joy to spend time with them. They bring so much life to this funny, moving and empathetic novel. I highly recommend it, especially for book clubs – you’ll be itching to discuss The Animators with someone else once you’ve finished.
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