The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
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.
Stella Charls is the marketing and events coordinator for Readings.