We’ve reached that point of the year when the tower of 2018 proofs on my bedside table (and on my floor, behind the door, so visitors can’t see the madness) wobbles precariously with even the gentlest footfall. Which means it’s time to pull the plug on 2017 and start diving into next year’s titles. But before that, there’s the small matter of declaring The Best Books of 2017… otherwise known as my favourites. There are so many books I haven’t mentioned here that I adored, but what follows are the ones that my brain simply refused to forget.
A graphic novel, a brilliant retelling of a Shakespeare play, a standout second novel from the 2015 Miles Franklin winner Sofie Laguna, a couple of mile-a-minute page-turners, and a brilliant debut literary crime novel from a fresh Australian voice; these, and more, are my picks for the books that have already made 2017 a stellar year for reading. And we’re only halfway through it!
The 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.
Imprint: Scribe Publications
Publisher: Scribe Publications
Publish Date: 27-Feb-2017
Country of Publication: Australia