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.
Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last—glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream, Mathis’s first novel heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
AACC Librarian Note: I learned about this book before Oprah chose it for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 thanks to a book reviewer that I follow on Goodreads. The book description excited me and I looked forward to a new voice in literature. I read this book before I read Isobel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns (available for checkout at the AACC Library), but when I reflect back on what I read by Mathis with Wilkerson’s research juxtaposing the narration, I see more of the beauty of Mathis’ lyrical narrative. Imagine raising many kids in the shadow of slavery and wanting better for your children, but never quite capturing it. Mathis tells a captivating story through a series of vignettes surrounding Hattie, her children, and their lives. ~Carla R. Sarratt