The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
by Ayana Mathis
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2012
If people like a book to have at least a spark of happiness in it somewhere, they will be disappointed. There is no joy to be found in the tribes of Hattie. If people like characters to journey through hardships to redemption, they will be disappointed. The unfortunate tribes of Hattie spiral into disillusionment or bitterness.
The book introduces us to the many children of Hattie Shepherd. An unplanned teenage pregnancy starts Hattie on her long road of motherhood, and we read how the lives of her children unfold in any number of dysfunctional ways. Each chapter features a different child or two, and the stories of those children overlap with those of the others in the family only peripherally. The result is disjointed and unsatisfying.
The word “tribe” in the title misleads prospective book buyers into believing that they will read about a family with a long reach and lingering legacy. The reality of the story is the opposite. The characters strangle themselves with their own flaws and sputter out before reaching far or creating legacy. Hattie and her husband, August, are the only threads that run through the book, and they are not easy characters to love.
The author alludes to the biblical story of Job. Even Job gets to see God at the end of his story. He has his fortune restored and then doubled. Poor Hattie. She just walks away from the church, still struggling to show someone some tenderness.