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The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Literary fiction

The Animators


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Kayla Rae Whitaker, on your first book!

by Kayla Rae Whitaker

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Quick take

"It is about something I love without reservation—women who aren’t afraid to want."

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FemaleFriendship

    Female friendships

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Brainy


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Tech

    Tech world


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.

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Why I love it

Here’s a confession that might ruin the (completely imaginary) friendship I have with Kayla Rae Whitaker, the author of The Animators—I don’t love animation. I like it just fine, but even as a kid who was only allowed unfettered access to the television on Saturday mornings, I became impatient with cartoons, flipping channels and looking for "real" people.

So I approached The Animators warily—fool I now know myself to be. Yes, the book centers on two animators and, predictably, digs deep into the world of animation, but it is also very much about something I love without reservation—women who aren’t afraid to want.

Mel and Sharon meet in college; they are artists and outsiders, both trying to escape their pasts and claim their futures. Their individual and shared ambition works in (and on) them in different ways, but they become a professional duo, stronger together than apart—with all the struggles and rewards that intimate collaboration requires. Mel and Sharon develop so much mutual trust that they’re able to take the most vulnerable moments from their own lives and offer them to each other as material to turn into great art.

I loved spending time in their company and I found myself slowing down as I approached the end of the book because I didn’t want to leave them behind. No surprise in a novel as beautifully crafted, as witty, and as original as The Animators.

The Animators does something I wish more novels did: offers up a distinct creative vision that only exists between the covers of the book. What a thrill, that moment when you understand that the author is not only inviting you into a world only she can build, but also inviting you to participate in imagining that world. Oh, how I wish I could see Sharon’s and Mel’s creations on the screen, but having them play on a loop in my head was intoxicating. The Animators will steal your heart and break it a little, just like all great art can and should.

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Member ratings (1,810)

  • Soo Y.

    Venice, CA

    As someone who knows a lot of animators, I found this refreshing and relatively free of cliches. It managed to surprise me — both in plot and character, rare for a debut. It leaves a lot to discuss.

  • Katie B.

    Decatur, IN

    This didn’t start out strong for me. It was almost a dnf but I pushed through and I’m glad I did because I ended up really enjoying this so much. It went to places I didn’t expect but overall loved it

  • Erin H.

    Largo, FL

    My new favorite book ever. I laughed. I cried. If you only read one book for the rest of your life you better make sure it's this one. You'll feel every emotion & the characters will become your bffs!

  • Caroline F.

    Spring Grove, MN

    The characters were far from perfect but I still want to meet them. Once I started this book I could not put it down, I have no concept of animation but the author made me care and want to learn more.

  • JoAnn B.

    Carnegie, PA

    At first, I didn't think I was going to like this book. But between pages 100-150, it GRABBED me, I couldn't stop reading. I just loved Mel and Sharon, was SO glad I didn't give up on them too soon

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