The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

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“There’s the feeling that it’s either saved us or ruined us.”

Don’t think the story of two girls meeting in college is going to be a sweet little ‘coming into adulthood’. Nope, these girls take each others hands and jump head first down the rabbits hole. Where they end up is in a bohemian life full of art and passion, jealousy, loyalty and love. How did someone named Sharon Kisses a ‘little nothing’ from rural Kentucky find herself at an east coast private college meant for the gifted? It’s only fitting she bonds with another misfit with a broken past. Wanting to shuck off her dysfunction, Sharon learns through Mel Vaught that maybe embracing what separates your from the average folk might just be the key to creation.

Mel is less apologetic for her thoughts, behavior, lifestyle than Sharon and while both are reacting to their upbringing in different ways, there is something far more alive in Mel. In fact, I loved her- she is the sort of person that won’t let you bullshit her, or yourself. Sometimes, you need someone to shake your world, to push guide you to the edge of your fears and say ‘Jump!’ But Mel too needs someone to calm her chaos, because her bravado may be the only defense to hide the broken bones of her childhood.

I highlighted madly, as I do with books I love, but I can’t share the quotes because it’s not out yet 😦 The writing, for a debut novel, is wonderful! These characters are an emotional mess that let the wreckage of their lives bleed through the animations they create. It is raw exposure and not everyone is ready for that. This bloodletting leads to success of some measure, but can the two keep it together when it’s time to explore Sharon’s dark past? Is art a cathartic way to escape your boogeyman, or does focusing on such horrors only cause those tumors to grow in astronomical proportions? How much does letting others into your most broken places benefit you? Just how vulnerable should we allow ourselves to be in friendships, love, art? Is it ever enough? Is it too much?

There is more than one tragedy in this novel. When I first jumped in, I thought ‘oh, it’s a story about two outcasts who find each-other and everything will be right with the world.’ HA, then the story turned on me with one incident after another. I thought, in the case of Sharon ‘what? I didn’t see that coming.’ I love this! I love what happens with her just when they start making a name for themselves, how like life! Just when you get going, it punches you in the head! Who is the truly gifted one, is Sharon Kisses (of the fabulously sexy name) just piggybacking a much more talented Mel? You have to read to find out. This novel isn’t just about Mel and Sharon, I particularly enjoyed the effects their families (each so different) imprinted their screwiness on them. I don’t care if you come from a family of backwoods hicks or privileged politicians, all families have their own brand of madness that can’t be shed. Rather you run from your family’s ideas and behaviors, embrace it, or make art out of it, you are infected by them as much as healed.

Friends are a family we create. They know us, they pay attention to the things we don’t even want to see about ourselves. We can grow to resent being known so well, because honesty hurts. There is so much to feast on in The Animators. Sharon seems to mother Meg, so we think, but is that true? Mel herself  has many more faces than we initially notice. Sharon is hungry too, and just as willing to go along (for the sake of her art) with exploring a part of her past that includes someone who was once so very important to her lonely younger self. Choices can be like a bomb, but the hunger for an artist can’t always take a backseat. I was mad by what happens, but I also thought it was perfectly necessary. Some people will think of Mel and Sharon as selfish, but there is a drive in artists that is a beast that must be fed, even if the cost is everything you love. Yes people, grab this one when it is released on November 29, 2016. This is one hell of a debut!


Random House Publishing Group- Random House

Publication Date: November 29, 2016


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