Review of Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Some say that the most important relationship in a child’s life is the one he or she has with their mother. For those
who have memories of their mother being as close to perfection as 1980’s iconic television mom Claire Huxtable, there are stories of intimate bonding. However, for those who have a less perfect and more challenging connection with their mothers, often there is the shadow looming over that relationship of what could have been. Author Ayana Mathis explores the fragility that often marks the tenuous relationship between mothers and children in her masterfully written debut novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Set against the backdrop of the Great Migration, the time period from 1910’s – 1970’s when millions of African Americans left the South for dreams of prosperity in the North, the novel provides a peak into the life of Georgia born Hattie Shepherd, her husband and their eleven children as they struggle to survive in Philadelphia.
Each chapter of this Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection focuses on a specific time in the lives of each of Hattie’s children. The book starts with the riveting and tragic deaths of her two oldest children. Mathis weaves the lives of the dysfunctional family into each chapter showing Hattie’s unsuccessful attempts to process her grief. Hattie takes out her frustration, sadness, anger and hostility out on her surviving children. As a result, each child is impacted by what appears to be the unpredictable outbursts and bizarre behavior from their mother.
In Periodicals Spotlight, Spotlight on Reviews