Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 256 pages
Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 16 minutes
First Published: 2012
In 1923, Hattie Shepherd leaves Georgia in search of a better life in Philadelphia. Instead, she ends up in a disappointing marriage. Hattie goes on to have 11 children, whom she raises with strength, but not much tenderness. Through the narratives of her children, you see the legacy inherited by the children of the Great Migration.
I decided to pair Mathis’s novel with Isabel Wilkerson’s stunning history of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns for my 2023 Reading Challenge. Each chapter is a beautifully written short story of one of Hattie’s children. Yet, collectively, the novel felt too fragmented, as most of the children were never mentioned again. The disjointed format prevents you from becoming to fully invested in the story and makes the novel lose much of its potential power.
A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family.
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.
Quotes from The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
I try to find the beauty in things. On dark days I sit in my armchair looking at clouds and I am awed at how rain is made.
Pride brought down a lot of folks. One of these days you gon’ have to turn around and look at whatever it is you running from.
Maybe we have only a finite amount of love to give. We’re born with our portion, and if we love and are not loved enough in return, it’s depleted.
It seemed to him that every time he made one choice in his life, he said no to another. All of those things he could not do or be were huddled inside of him; they might spring up at any moment, and he would be hobbled with regret.