The Animators

This tragi-comic novel (384 pages) was published in January of 2017 by Random House. The book takes you to Appalachia and NYC. David read The Animators and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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The Animators

Kayla Rae Whitaker

This gripping novel invites you into the challenging relationship between two artists as they navigate life in Appalachian Kentucky, Brooklyn, and about a million emotional places in between. Funny, insightful, and moving, it’s an adroit examination of the otherness of being an artist.

You’ll meet Sharon Kisses, a quiet, observant introvert from the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. And Mel Vaught, a fast-talking Florida girl with a wicked sense of humor. She reminds everyone of Lori Petty from Tank Girl — all thin and edgy and ready to get into mischief.

They meet as design students at a fancy art school on the East Coast and instantly bond over an evening spent watching old cartoons. They form a partnership and go on to become animators. In a shared Brooklyn flat, they spend years learning their craft and making animated shorts and movies. Eventually, they break through. But success doesn’t make life easier; it just gets different.

It story is about finding family, telling your story, and subverting the expectations of old people. It’s also a brilliant explanation of what it’s like to live as a creative person. Spoiler: It’s challenging and bracing and full of surprises, good and bad.

This taut novel also makes clear how a challenging family can shape an artist and their work. Sharon says about going home to Kentucky, ‘I am a spectator here, a spectator to my own family like I’ve always been.’ Writers, filmmakers, visual artists — to do their work, they must be a little separate, a bit on the outside, to observe and translate those intimate observations into universal truths.

If you have an aspiring adult or teen artist in your life, this would be an excellent book to put into their hands.

The writing is lively, lovely, and descriptive. The dialogue, in particular, rings true. When your time with Sharon and Mel has ended, you’ll miss hearing them banter — and be grateful for the honest way you were invited into their relationship.

I drew my own cigarette from my bag, a habit I’d picked up from Mel, lit up and started to turn back when Allen said, ‘I always heered that art was for ugly girls and queers.’

‘Well, thank God for that, huh,’ I said, and walked away.

— Charlotte Brontë

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