The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

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. 

This. Book. Where to even begin?

You know how the best books are the ones where the characters speak into your soul? That was this book for me. Sharon has this thing called “The List,” a secret book where she draws about men she’s “loved”. And, just like Mel, I was hooked by this idea. A lot of these drawings come from infatuations with men she barely knew, and wow isn’t that a mood. There’s a part where she talks about how much easier it is to live in a world that only exists inside your own head, because of the control, and because of the way you can make anything as perfect as you want it to be. And I love that idea. I think everyone loves that idea, to an extent. Sharon just put it on paper. Being inside Sharon’s head was what had me turning the pages, because the way her mind worked just read perfectly. I understood her so deeply, and I wanted to know more.

Then, we come to her relationship with Teddy. I don’t want to give too much away, because I want you all to read it, but let me tell you, it was bad. Knowing how much she idealises all these things, I saw the red flags for miles before she did. And even when she did start to notice them, it was easier to avoid, because the idea of what this love story was going to be was better than anything that was actually right in front of her face. Oh, and the big fight? Sharon’s fault. 100% on Sharon.

Then we come to Mel. Mel was… interesting. As a character, brilliantly written, I was constantly waiting for her to walk into a room, to see what she was going to do next. I found her story so interesting, how she coped (or didn’t cope) with the relationship with her mother, how she poured herself into her work, how much she relied on Sharon. As a person, though? Horrible! I don’t understand why her friends (especially Sharon) let her get away with so much. Sure, there was a bit of a fight during the book, but she was forgiven pretty fast. It’s great to have a friend whose there when it counts big-time, but what about for all the little times? Aren’t those just as important? I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, because she was so much better than she thought she was, and her actions were just a result of all that self doubt and self hatred. And god it infuriated me.

Oh, and the ENDING. Yeah, it ripped me apart. I waited til I was going to bed, turned my fairy lights on, cuddled under the blankets, and sobbed. It was the only way to really give that story justice. It made sense, it worked really well, it just broke my heart and I’ll never forgive anyone for what happened. So.

Basically, should you read it? YES. It’s the kind of book I can’t stop thinking about, and I want all of you to have it settle in your heart like I did.

TW: discussions of pedophilia, sexual assault

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