The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Hardback
3.5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


"The opening pages of Ayana's debut took my breath away.

I can't remember when I read anything that moved me quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison". (Oprah Winfrey). Fifteen years old and blazing with the hope of a better life, Hattie Shepherd fled the horror of the American South on a dawn train bound for Philadelphia.

Hattie's is a tale of strength, of resilience and heartbreak that spans six decades.

Her American dream is shattered time and again: a husband who lies and cheats and nine children raised in a cramped little house that was only ever supposed to be temporary. She keeps the children alive with sheer will and not an ounce of the affection they crave.

She knows they don't think her a kind woman - but how could they understand that all the love she had was used up in feeding them and clothing them.

How do you prepare your children for a world you know is cruel?

The lives of this unforgettable family form a searing portrait of twentieth century America. From the revivalist tents of Alabama to Vietnam, to the black middle-class enclave in the heart of the city, to a filthy bar in the ghetto, "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" is an extraordinary, distinctive novel about the guilt, sacrifice, responsibility and heartbreak that are an intrinsic part of ferocious love.




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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

Hattie Shepherd's life has been undeniably hard. We meet her at aged sixteen when she is expecting twins. Her husband has already named them, such is his excitement. But tragedy is to follow and so begins a life full of trial and hardship. Hattie and August are part of the huge black migration from the south of America to Philadelphia in the early to mid 1920s. In search of a better life, their expectations are never met.....and the babies keep on coming!This a a beautifully written debut told with warmth and compassion. Each chapter is dedicated to each of Hattie's children and, later, one of her grandchildren. The effect of struggling times and their mother's tempestuous marriage to a serial philanderer takes it's toll on every last one, but in many different ways. August tries to be a good father, but not hard enough. Every night sees him out drinking and womanising, whilst Hattie is trying to keep food on the table for her ever growing family. Eventually, even Hattie seeks comfort in the arms of another man, but somehow in a more dignified fashion!Following Hattie's life from a teenager to her early seventies, paints a picture of how society and attitudes have changed over the years, but not always for the better. I read this beautiful novel in 2 flows from the pages. The only slight criticism I have is that we don't completely learn how each of Hattie's children developed their own, sometimes self-destructing, behaviours or learn exactly what happens to them all. That would have taken a much longer novel and it may well be that Ayana Mathis wanted us to develop our own opinions and understandings.Highly recommended, a must read, and one of Oprah's recommendations...which are always spot on.

Review by

For much of this book, I thought it would be a 3-star book, but in the end, I'm giving it a 4-star rating. Why? Because the story grew on me. The already pregnant Hattie got married at 16 and left the Jim Crow south for the marginally better north. And then she continued to have baby after baby. Her story and the stories of her family are sad and angry, filled with sad and angry people. Initially, I just couldn't connect with the characters, nothing drew me into the story.The characters sometimes try too hard to be who they are not, sometimes hide their true selves under what they want the world to see, often are harder and more flawed than we would like them to be. And in the end, they are altogether human. The story jumps from character to character, occasionally making me wonder “ who is this person and have I already met him?” And there are some I felt I needed to know more about. They all tie together as part of Hattie's tribe.The writing is very good, especially for a debut novel. It is descriptive but not overly flowery. I could see through the characters eyes things that I could not have seen through my own.This is not an uplifting, feel-good kind of story, and it is not filled with action and adventure, but in the end, it comes down to family. I am glad I read it.Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance reader's edition for my review.

Review by

I feel like I should be giving this novel a higher score than 2/5 solely because it was extremely well written. But I feel that would be disingenuous because I really didn't enjoy the content of the book.<br/><br/>Oh, Hattie. How could someone have some much misery befall them and their family. I guess when you put any family's life under the microscope you'll be able to dig up their miserable dirt on the same scale. But what I don't understand is why an author would want to make the central theme of their work inescapable unhappiness. We never get to see those shining moments between Hattie and Lawrence that Bell mentions, or find out if Pearl ever gets the family she longs for. It is true that life is not happy, that there are hardships around every corner. But hope also exists and I wish we would have seen a bit more of it in these glimpses into the lives of these characters. <br/><br/>If you enjoy a fairly bleak read, I'd recommend this to you. Though you may find yourself needlessly depressed by the time you finish the last page.

Review by

Sad weird book. I liked that the story was told my Hattie and her children. The characters were not well defined so we couldn't understand what happened to this family to make them all so messed up, a bit more background information would have been helpful.