Reader Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Title: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Author: Ayana Mathis

Format: Hard cover

Page Count: 243 pages

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Reviewer: Susan


The Twelve Tribes of Hattie begins in 1925, with seventeen year old Hattie Shepherd’s struggle to save her infant twins, Philadelphia and Jubilee, who are slowly coughing themselves, Hattie fears, to death.  This dramatic opening serves as an introduction to Hattie’s ten other children, who, chapter by chapter, have their stories told, the first in 1948 and the last in 1980.  Through the children’s stories, we learn what has happened to Hattie and her husband, August.

Each chapter could serve as the springboard for another novel, but the book is not disjointed and the reader does not feel crucial information has been left unsaid.  There are no perfect people among Hattie’s Twelve Tribes, and Hattie herself certainly isn’t perfect.  Drug addiction, adultery, mental illness, poverty, economic success by legal and illegal means, religious fervor and hypocrisy—all are enjoyed or endured by the Shepherd family.

The book reads with compelling flow; it can be difficult to put down!

WD’s Editorial Tip: It’s okay to do something with a novel that’s outside the box. Using the different chapters to show what happens in the Shepherd family is a great example.