Book Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Book Review The Twelve Tribes of Hattie {living outside the stacks}

Author: Ayana Mathis

Genre: African American Fiction

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Publication Date: 8 October 2013

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 304

ABOUT THE BOOK {from the back of the book}

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd, swept up by the tides of the Great Migration, flees Georgia and heads north. Full of hope, she settles in Philadelphia to build a better life. Instead she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment, and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins are lost to an illness that a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children, whom she raises with grit, mettle, and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them to meet a world that will not be kind. Their lives, captured here in twelve luminous threads, tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage—and a nation’s tumultuous journey.


Ayana Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her first novel.


This was not one of my favorite novels. As I stated below, I tend to stay away from Oprah Book Club picks, but I chose to read this book anyway. So let me start with what I did like about the novel before I go into what I didn’t like…

The characters are well developed and sympathetic. Even Hattie. Without giving too much of her story away, I can see how the early trauma that she suffered impacted her life and the life that she created for her family. Sorrow and disappointment can do that to you. When she was young, she saw a life full of hope and promise, and it was sucked out of her by her husband, her kids, the “stuckness” of her situation. I saw Hattie as a woman who was bound by the restrictions of poverty and gender.

I don’t think her kids were abused (although, in today’s world, it would be described as emotional abuse), I think they were just raised how black kids were raised back in the day – “seen and not heard”, “stay in a child’s place”, etc. Parents simply didn’t talk to their kids the way they do now. And the impact was devastating. Although, there is a discussion in the chapter about Belle where she says something about people getting to the point where they stop blaming their parents and start accepting responsibility for their own lives.

The parts of the novel that bothered me most were the parts that dealt with faith and the church. I know that there are some bad preachers out there, I just find it, I don’t know, ummmm, disheartening when that story line is repeatedly played out. I’d just like to read one novel in which the preacher is moral, ethical, and God-fearing, instead of just in it for the women and the money. And, yes, I do recognize that it’s my faith that prevented me from totally enjoying this book.


They didn’t understand that all the love she had was taken up with feeding them and clothing them and preparing them to meet the world. The world would not love them; the world would not be kind.

Page 290


This book contains childhood death, violence, and sexual content.



The February theme for the Book Girl Magic Reading Challenge {#BGRChallenge} is Black History Bestseller. I remember this book being mentioned as a selection for Oprah’s Book Club a few years back. Generally, I tend to steer clear of her choices because they tend to be a little too abstract (read ancestors’ spirit speaking)  for my taste. However, from reading the description of the book, I didn’t think this one would fall into that category, so I added it to my TBR shelf. There were some anti-faith moments in the novel (the chapter on Six and his “ministry” and the whole end of the novel), which only cements my belief that Oprah picks are not for me.

To see my #BGRChallenge Bookshelf, click here.

Looking for some recommendations? Check out my recommended reading shelf.

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Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let’s discuss…

Daenel T {Living Outside the Stacks}





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  • I am so conflicted about when I should post my February BGM February review. I was late to the party so read January’s book in February and just finishing Feb’s book now. Do you think it is ok that I review them a month late, or better that I double up this month, and then start review each month’s book during that month?

    I am pretty certain I have Hattie on my to read shelf on Goodreads. I liked the title and the summary. Will have to reconsider it after reading your review. I hate not finishing a book but dislike reading one I don’t enjoy even more. Currently finishing The Lost Wife. Thought I would listen to it via Audible but have been reading it before bed each night.

    • I don’t think it really matters as there isn’t a linkup or anything. I’m just posting my reviews whenever they fit into my schedule. I have a way that I like for things to line up, so I stick to that format. I honestly couldn’t even tell you if there’s anyone else participating — I’m just sharing here and on Instagram.

      I’m always torn when I have a book that I don’t like — do I finish it or let it go? If I shelled out money for the book, I have an even bigger issue. There’ve been times I’ve wanted to contact the author and get at least a portion of my money back.

      This book was OK. Definitely not one of my faves and probably not one that I’d recommend…

  • Kellyann

    I appreciate your honesty about the book and what bothered you. I feel the same way when I read about schools or see them on tv being portrayed poorly. We all have our buttons and when they get pushed it’s hard to get past.
    I read a pretty mindless book over the weekend but it was free from Amazon Prime and entertained me!

    • I used to get docked points in high school and college for letting things like faith, feelings towards characters, etc. interfere with my ability to analyze a book. Now that I do it on my blog, I’m so happy that I have the freedom to evaluate as I choose. When my beliefs play a role in my feelings towards a book, I try to be honest about it, so that those who don’t share my beliefs can make an informed choice, but oh my word sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I really just want to read a book without the faith implications. LOL

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