Review: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Animators.jpgThe Animators is such an accomplished and polished debut. I loved it for two reasons: it’s an honest examination of the genesis and cost of living a creative life — of making art — and its elegant portrayal of love and friendship. 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. It is the first absolute must-read of 2017.

When we meet Sharon Kisses at a private East Coast college, she is a young, talented but insecure artist. Very quietly, she has big dreams — achievable aspirations — but one feels her self-doubt will prohibit any major successes. Then she meets fellow student Mel Vaught, which turns out to be the defining moment of both their lives. Though both women have incredibly divisive personalities — Mel is wild and outspoken — they form a seemingly unbreakable bond, and indeed, smash-cut to a decade later, become an award-winning animation duo. But just as they seem destined for greatness, tragedy strikes, revealing cracks in their relationship. The healing process begins when they return to Sharon’s home in rural Kentucky, facing up to the horrors of her childhood.

Both women are affected by the tragedies of their childhood. They are both wounded, and stimulated by these moments; their art thrives because of their past, but their personal lives stutter and crumble because of them. Together they have the fortitude to stave off their demons — just — but Sharon’s attempt to confront her issues — with Mel as her strongest advocate — threatens to destroy their unified strength.

The Animators is a remarkable and emotionally gripping read. The friendship between Sharon and Mel feels authentic — Whitaker exposes the highs and lows of a genuine long-lasting partnership — and the impact of their successes and failures, personal and professional, impact hard, and will resonate long after the final page. Kayla Rae Whitaker has crafted an irresistible story of friendship and creativity. The last time I was immersed in a novel as rich and rewarding was Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. 

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