Book Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis



Loss sets the tone for this novel of a mother’s unending grief and the effect it has on her family.

From Goodreads:

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

This book is everywhere! Every time I pick up a magazine of visit a book site, this book is there, thanks, in part, to Oprah making it her newest book club pick.

Entertainment Weekly summed this book up best when they said “…this is a slim, poetic novel, one that focuses less on American progress than on the small but powerful moments that are strung together, like beads on a necklace, to make one long strand of a family’s history.”

This story is a web, which is spread out over time and space ensnaring all of Hattie’s children.

The writing style in this book is such that even with just chapter long snippets of each child, we get a sense of where this family has been, what it has meant to each of them and what their observations of Hattie were. We get to know Hattie through the stories of her children. I have to wonder though, if we really get to know her or just a semblance of her children’s perception of her.

This book has to be taken for what it is, a short story of a family surviving the best way they know how. It’s not kind and sweet; it’s not really inspirational. To me it was more tragic. Circumstances, both her own doing and those beyond Hattie’s control, affects each of her children in different ways. She allowed a cloud of hurt and wants to surround her family. Not in the physical sense of clothing and food, she did everything she could to keep their needs met, but in the emotional sense. This book will definitely make you think about the effect your actions or inactions and your emotional health have on your own family.

It’s very well written for a debut. Each chapter could have been a stand-alone story. But, I didn’t find any inspiration in the pages. Only heartfelt sadness for both Hattie and her children.

View this book on Goodreads.
View this book on Amazon.

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