The young adult novel grows up. The coming of age story morphs into the finding myself story. A well-read friend of mine thought the ToB contained an unusually high percentage of these tales this year, a stat I won’t be able to comment on until I get further along with the list, but I did read two of them back-to-back.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker focuses on best friends and collaborators Mel and Sharon. Although they first meet at a fine arts program in college, most of the novel takes place roughly a decade later when they have successfully released their first feature-length animated movie. There were some story lines and a few plot twists, but it was much more of a character study. Sadly, I just couldn’t really care about any of the characters. It felt like a rehash of 60’s era “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll,” only replace the musical talent with artistic talent. I wanted to hear more about a pair of female animators making it in a man’s world, not just that they worked like fiends and had ink-stained fingers. The premise sounded so original, but the execution felt more formulaic. The writing was solid, as to be expected with a ToB pick, I thought she did exceptionally well with a first-person narrative. I am looking forward to hearing what the ToB community liked and didn’t like about it.
In contrast, Rachel Khong might have done too good a job with Goodbye, Vitamin. Ruth, 30 years old and still smarting after her long-time boyfriend walked out on her, returns to her childhood home to help care for father, a former college professor who is slipping into deeper dementia. While there, she can no longer run away from confronting the not always happy marriage of her parents. The book is written in a stream of consciousness, diary format. The format itself is actually important to the story, it works, but….here’s where Khong did her job too well. I didn’t really want to read the diary of an angsty 30-year old. It felt like something I could’ve written (especially back in my angsty earlier life) and that is not a compliment. It felt genuine, it was a sweet story, but it never grabbed me.
So. Two books with great, bright covers. Two well-written entries in the ToB. Two books that make me wonder if I am aging out of the target audience for current, popular fiction.