“A wildly original novel that pulses with heart and truth . . . That this powerful exploration of friendship, desire, ambition, and secrets manages to be ebullient, gripping, heartbreaking, and deeply deeply funny is a testament to Kayla Rae Whitaker’s formidable gifts. I was so sorry to reach the final page. Sharon and Mel will stay with me for a very long time.”—Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
Entertainment Weekly • NPR • Kirkus Reviews • BookPage
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.
“Suffused with humor, tragedy and deep insights about art and friendship.”—People
“[A] stunning debut.”—Variety
“A compulsively readable portrait of women as incandescent artists and intimate collaborators.”—Elle
Updating the theme of how artists turn personal pain into art, Whitaker's outstanding debut novel portrays two women working together to create adult cartoons. Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses meet in a college art class. Confident, talented, and openly gay, Mel anticipates a career in animation, while quiet, lonely, straight, and inexperienced Sharon knows only that she wants to be an artist. Mel introduces Sharon to works by R. Crumb and other alternative animators and comics artists before the two women collaborate on their own dark, funny, carefully crafted work, discovering they perfectly complement each other. A decade after graduation, they gain recognition for Nashville Combat, a full-length animated film based on Mel's early life in central Florida as the daughter of a delinquent mother who went to prison when Mel was 13. Mel and Sharon struggle following the film's success: a drunken Mel rips out the microphone during an NPR interview; they argue; Sharon suffers an aneurism. Renewal for the pair comes with a new project, this one focused on Sharon, who returns with Mel to her eastern Kentucky home to confront her own disturbing memories and reconnect with her one childhood friend. Whitaker deftly sketches settings and characters: Brooklyn is all chain-link fences and loading docks and aging signage, Mel is the fire-starter, Sharon the finisher. Whitaker skillfully charts the creative process, its lulls and sudden rushes of perfect inspiration. And in the relationship between Mel and Sharon, she has created something wonderful and exceptional: a rich, deep, and emotionally true connection that will certainly steal the hearts of readers.