The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker: Powerful debut

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s debut novel The Animators was named ‘One of The Best Books of 2017’ by NPR, Kirkus Reviews and BookPage.

The Animators Book ReviewThe Animators Synopsis

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.

(Random House (US), ScribePublications (Aus, UK))

Genre: Literature, Drama, Romance, Adventure

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I had an immediate appreciation for Whitaker’s strong writing style and was intrigued by the rawness of her characters, but the storyline itself… well the initial domesticity left my mind wandering.

In her weird, exhibitionist’s way, Mel likes the intimacy of what we do, of placing herself at the center of what we make. I love the work for the opposite reason: for the ability it gives me to abandon myself, to escape the husk of my body and fly off into the ether. I know a day of work has been really good when I have to look up from the board and recall who I am and what I’m doing.

But then, BAM… a flick is switched and Whitaker takes her story of Mel and Sharon, and my engagement with it, to a whole other level. Shocking, absorbing and the gamut of emotions, achingly real.

Children learn it. Boys, but more often, and more closely, girls. When girls learn it, they learn it for the rest of their lives, inventing two separate planes on which they exist–the life of the surface, presented for others, and the life forever lived on the inside, the one that owns you.

The Animators is a story of moments, the characters’ (and readers’) reactions to events, often shocking ones — and these moments would so easily be spoilt by too much discussion of the plot detail.

Book Quote from The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker

While some of the American pop culture references and phrasing (dialogue) felt a little foreign to me and the choices made by her characters are not always endearing, I found the fervency and sheer abandon Whitaker evokes in this novel captivating. Like fireworks.

The Animators is a powerful debut that cuts deep, to the core of true friendship.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Get your copy of The Animators from:

Bookshop US | AmazonBooktopia AU

About the Author, Kayla Rae Whitaker

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, Split Lip Magazine, Bodega, Joyland, Five Quarterly, American Microreviews and Interviews, and others. She has a BA from the University of Kentucky and an MFA from New York University. After many years of living in Brooklyn, she returned to Kentucky, her home state, in 2016 with her husband and their geriatric tomcat, Breece D’J Pancake.

In July 2017 Whitaker spoke with KET about the success of her debut and the pressures involved in now writing a follow-up:

More The Animators reviews

“Kayla Rae Whitaker winds together the moments that define who we are, and weaves an incredible tapestry of life and death. It’s a novel that dares to explore the full spectrum of emotions: at moments it cheered me, at others it broke my heart.” – WrittenBySime

“…something wonderful and exceptional: a rich, deep, and emotionally true connection that will certainly steal the hearts of readers.” – Publishers Weekly

“Empathetic but never sentimental; a book that creeps up on you and then swallows you whole.” – Kirkus Reviews

* My receiving a copy of The Animators from Penguin Random House for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.