Tada!!! I have officially finished my first book for this year’s Tournament of Books. Thanks to Christopher and Drew at So Many Damn Books for introducing me to this amazing event. I’m so stoked for March. And wow, what a great way to kick off my reading with The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker. I blew through this book—half of it drunk on wine in a bathtub, the other half sleepily waiting for my girlfriend to get home last night. What I thought was going to be a fun story about cartoons wound up being a heartwrenching story that made me cry, ripped my heart out, and felt way too real.
Title: The Animators
Author: Kayla Rae Whitaker
Format: Kindle Edition
Page Count: 374
Publisher: Random House
Original Publication Date: 2017
Genre(s): Adult fiction, Contemporary, Art
Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses meet in art school. They are both crazy-into drawing cartoons, something looked down upon by their professors and families. But who cares? They’ve found inspiration in each other. They become inseparable, and eventually partners in animation. With their first full-length film release, the two are riding the high of success. Bur what comes next, after the tours and interviews and parties? What goes on in the real world, where you cant hide behind pencils and paper and jokes? Reality is much darker than any cartoon will ever be.
The book starts out slow. I’ll go ahead and say it. That’s why I didn’t think it would take such an emotional toll on me. I felt distanced from it. Then it suddenly takes off and you feel like you’ve lived a whole new life, right there beside Mel and Sharon.
The novel is told in first-person from the perspective of Sharon, a Kentucky born-and-raised girl who doesn’t fit in, like, anywhere. She struggles to make friends and falls in love with guys (many guys) from afar. Mel, her opposite, grows up in Florida with a shitty mom who winds up in jail. The two girls meet in college and eventually make an animated film about Mel’s fucked-up childhood.
But The Animators is so much more than that. It’s a heartbreaking story about friendship, at its base level, but it’s also about memories, honesty, growing older, and accepting death. Finishing the novel is like losing a friend. It’s a long haul of a book, so strap yourself in and hold on tight—you may not like where you end up.
Sharon, the narrator, is not very likable. Though I can relate to her, she is a little too winy and over dramatic, especially at age, what, thirty-two? She’s in her thirties for most of the novel and her thoughts read like a 19-year-old’s. She makes a lot of really bad decisions. And while I understand being the first one to leave a party, the one who sucks at public speaking, the one who always feels unattractive and not good enough—well, you’re in the wrong business to be that way, Sharon. She just seems a little childish to me. I grew to like her more towards the end of the novel, though. And to be honest, even though she wasn’t my favorite character, I still didn’t have any trouble reading from her perspective. She made a fine narrator. I just hated her sometimes. But wow, what happens to her in Florida…that tore me up inside.
Mel is basically Sharon’s opposite. She’s loud, outgoing, somewhat of an alcoholic, and an all-out lesbian. She was hilarious, but a bit rude and very over-the-top. In fact, I didn’t like her too much, either. I thought she was (usually) a good friend to Sharon, but she also made really terrible decisions. This is another one of those books where I don’t really like any of the characters, but still end up loving the book. In fact, this happens every now and then and I figured I may as well make an award for it, because those kinds of books are truly impressive—it manages to still be a good read even with shitty characters.
This being Whitaker’s first novel, all I can say is, damn. This was pretty fantastic. When she wrote about Florida, you felt like you were in Florida. When she wrote about Kentucky, you were living there, too. And when she wrote about New York, it made me want to drop everything and move up there. You go all over the place in this novel. You feel like you’re there with Sharon and Mel, through all the good times and the bad. Whitaker is a great new author, and I look forward to more of her works. I hope this goes far in the Tournament of the Books this year! Watch the comments section—you’ll see me fighting for it.
“Terrified of the cafeteria’s clamor, I had taken to eating three meals of ramen noodles a day in my dorm room.”
“My drug of choice at eighteen: the quiet devouring of boys in my head.”
“It is strange and ultimately insulting how, when someone you love dies, just expires without warning, time does not stop.”