If there’s a book from 2017 I feel like I missed, it’s Kayla Rae Whitaker’s The Animators. The Animators tells a rags-to-riches story about two movie aficionados – those biggest of nerds – who achieve near universal acclaim in their professional lives and then risk losing everything to substance abuse and a stroke. The Animators may seem familiar, but it draws readers through heartache and fantasyland down home through the heart of Americana.
While at first glance they might seem like a stereotypical nerd and her impossibly cool friend, Sharon and Mel’s friendship works best when it affects the voice of the book. Though told in first-person, each woman makes her voice echo off the pages of the novel. Lonely, insecure Sharon’s narration blames Mel’s raucous partying for their career woes, but she desperately needs Mel’s confidence in her personal and professional life. When Mel’s estranged mother dies, even Sharon has no salve for Mel’s grief. Then, Sharon has a stroke. Mel’s selfless side appears as she quits drinking and hard drugs. They recuperate in Sharon’s native Kentucky, which Sharon describes in nightmarish terms, but Mel quickly cuts to the genuine heart of Sharon’s hardscrabble family. The characters actively work together as a storytelling team: each time one distorts the story, the other balances it out.
Mel and Sharon bicker and animate through a road trip through the American South and frequent nerdy cartoon references. These two are huge fans of Robert Crumb, Ren and Stimpy, Ralph Bakshi, and good ol’ Looney Tunes to name a few. These characters build their lives around their obsessions and eventually they churn out art. Sharon had a love interest in this novel, but the real passion here comes from her fandom.
Minor characters move in and out of the background like dreams. Sometimes, they seem a little too fleeting. Especially, Ryan and Tatum, who appear to have little ambition besides worshiping Mel and Sharon. Furthermore, a plurality of the characters make their first appearance in the final chapters. The novel focuses so hard on Mel and Sharon that it seems to have a hard time departing from them.
Overall, it’s an excellent debut novel and exploration of the fan characters. Mel and Sharon, the stars of The Animators, have a partnership so deep that they even help each other narrate the novel. These characters show the creative side of fans in action. When readers finally say good-bye to Mel and Sharon, they leave a compelling questions the way creators and art effect each other.
Three out of five stars.
Page count: 369
Favorite quote: “But this is the private cut, the one distribution keeps in their library. This movie closes out on Guns ‘N Roses the way the Good Lord attended.”