I first heard of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie when Oprah raved about the book after announcing it as the new book for her book club. This book is the author, Ayana Mathis’ first published novel and it was picked by Oprah before even hitting the shelves. In fact her publisher pushed up the release date because of it’s selection for the book club. All of this background intrigued me enough to pre-order the book on Amazon. Oh the power of Oprah!
The book is unique in that each chapter focuses on a different child of Hattie’s hence the title Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Through the stories of her children we weave together a story of Hattie. From the beginning I felt as though the overall story was disjointed and at some point would come tie together beautifully. Unfortunately for me that point never came. This book was several short stories with the common thread of Hattie thinly woven throughout.
The problem with the different stories is that each story is so different and each could easily be expanded into their own book and own independent story. A few of those stories did not appeal to me! I struggled through some chapters where I found the story boring or not relatable. While other chapters were more intriguing and I quickly read through them. In fact there was one chapter that I just could not fight through so I skipped the chapter entirely. Moving on, I did not feel as though I was missing anything and that highlights how the stories failed to connect. I’ve never been able to skip that much of a book and have no problem with the storyline after.
I apologize if this is a considered a spoiler, but the problems these characters face are somewhat depressing. I would move on to the next chapter and think ok hopefully this child of Hattie will have made it out better. Nope. Yes everyone has problems in life but I think for the most part we tend to find the happy middle ground. Not here, in my view no one wins! It seems we meet each “tribe” when they are at one of their low points in life. I realize not every book has to end all happy and beautiful but I just wanted a little more positivity.
Another aspect of the book that initially appealed to me is the time period it focuses on. The story of Hattie begins in the 1920s and moves to the 80s. I love history but I liked that there was not an overwhelming amount of the “we were oppressed by the white man during this civil rights era” . Mathis does not completely ignore that aspect of African American life though. It would be irresponsible to do so but I think she goes beyond that by discussing problems this family faced that generally had little to do with their race in 1950s and 1960s America. In my opinion this book found a great balance considering all to often racism is the focus of books set during this time.
Overall the book was not horrible. I liked the creativity in her story telling even though it did not quite connect in the end and I one day I hope to rise to Mathis’ level of descriptive writing. I think this is one of those books where opinions will differ greatly so it is probably worth picking up and reading for yourself.