Customer Reviews: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah's Book Club 2.0)
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VINE VOICEon December 2, 2012
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Thought this was a bunch of short stories loosely tied together, but it wasn't. It seemed to start out that way and I'm not fond of short stories, but it was actually the story of Hattie from 1925 to 1980. The narration was mostly through her eyes and sometimes through her children's eyes. But it moved along through time and kept the story riveting. Not sure if I liked Hattie, but I certainly sympathized with her. Not sure if I liked all of her children either. But it's really Hattie that the reader gets to know and reluctantly, at least for me, admire.

Ayana Mathis, the author, writes beautifully. She weaves words like a maestro conductor. Her characterizations have depth and the plot has tension and creativity. A slightly different kind of a book, but one that shouldn't be overlooked.
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on January 15, 2013
One star means you "hate" the book. Hate is such a strong word that I can say it's a little "over the top" in how I feel about this book, BUT not by much! You ever hear about a book or a specific artist and feel this overwhelming pressure that You Must Like It or you're not civilized or "cultured enough". I have felt this way before (shout out to Esperanza Spalding) and once again found myself saying I must love this book if Oprah and Essence says so. I mean I'm an African American woman born and raised in Philadelphia how can I not love this book.
At first, I must admit I was smitten, yes each chapter ended abruptly, with no sense of closure just doom and gloom or a feeling of What The... But I kept thinking "It's got to get better and Mathis is surely going to get back to these characters. By 60% into the book (for all my fellow Kindle readers out there) I was more than annoyed and was wondering what is the point to all this misery. By the time I got to the "Bell" chapter I was "speed reading" through each click of my Kindle. A friend of mine, who also read this book and had the same reaction as I did said the book should be called "What the Twelve Tribes of Hattie?" If someone out there does know, they sure didn't find out from reading this book.
Mathis needs to find her "voice" as a writer and pick a lane while she is at it. Putting everything in a book including the kitchen sink does not make for a fascinating read. Also to Mathis CLOSURE is a good thing you should try it out in your next book.
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on December 11, 2012
The writing here is indeed superb, but the story is a bit disjointed and the treatment of black males in this novel is absolutely horrendous. Here is a quote from USA Today, "With one or two exceptions, the male characters in this book make Alice Walker's The Color Purple read like a celebration of the strong black man." That comes from a woman, and those exceptions she mentions are fleeting at best.

The book starts off with a painful experience, but the writing and situation draws you in immediately. From that opening chapter it seems like everything goes downhill. Hattie never seems to quite recover from this event. Her husband August, is nowhere to be found during this calamity. The subsequent chapters are told from the 12 different children's perspective with varying degrees of effectiveness. Some of the chapters feel unconnected to the book as a whole, predicaments are mentioned and then never followed up on.

I know this book and author have already been anointed as the next big thing, and based on her prose I do understand why. I could only go 3 stars because the misandry was suffocating, and I sincerely hope that doesn't account for all the attention this novel has garnered, I would find that very disappointing.
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on December 14, 2012
Overall it was a decent book with stronger portions and good writing throughout most of the book. I did enjoy the author's use of Hattie's children and grandchildren to tell Hattie's story but through all of that I still don't think I really fully understood what made Hattie tick and why she was so distant and cold. A heartbreaking loss is referenced early in the book but they way the author describes her, it seems that Hattie was this way even before the loss. It made it hard for me to empathize with her character. I felt more for her children if anything.

Each chapter is basically a short story and some were more enjoyable than others. Some of the weaker chapters did not seem to connect back to Hattie or the other chapters from the other children later. I skimmed a chapter that I found uninteresting but I was able to read the following chapters without being confused. There were some chapters about some of the children that I think would make great novels by themselves, such as the story of her son Six who moves to the South to become a preacher or her daughter Belle. The main thing I wanted more of was a better connection of all the children and Hattie through the chapters. That is what is missing most.
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on December 7, 2012
How I love this book! The characters are so alive, the emotions are so real. I often had to stop, re-read a sentence and then just sit there to reflect as I ached for the lives of Hattie and her family. Or I would re-read to savor again a particular passage. Ms. Mathis writes with poetic beauty and a great storytelling style. She skillfully portrays the complexity of the human spirit and presents the characters with love and respect...even when they are behaving badly you can see the fragility of their souls. This would be a wonderful book club book. I plan to immediately read it again and recommend it to everyone. (I could have done without the Oprah notes, though.)
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on January 5, 2013
In reading the professional reviews of this book - the beautiful descriptions, the depth of insight - it strikes me that the reviews tell a better story than the work under consideration.

As a book, this work fails. As a collection of short stories - each chapter constituting a story - several were good. Unfortunately, this was marketed as a book.

While the story purports to be the tale of the various lives of Hattie's surviving children, with a few exceptions, these stories could have been about any 10 random people. In many cases, only a mention of Hattie connects these individuals to the book. In others, Hattie is discussed in a bit more detail, but her inclusion is almost a throwaway - a reference to a cold, withholding parent would have done the trick - and I do mean trick.

One senses the idea - and title - of the book were conceived, but the task of actually writing the story - fleshing out Hattie's character, creating a history between her and her children as she raised them, interaction of the family members - proved overwhelming. Instead we get sketches of characters, snatches of stories, and a late explanation - a neat summing up of Hattie's cold, utilitarian approach to motherhood - an explanation that should have come, instead, in the development of the story.
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This is such a lovely sentence, and yet I sighed thinking this book would proceed on one note. This is a book about the migration from the south to the cities of the north, but the notes are varied and nuanced. Hattie opens the book as a young girl of seventeen with desperately ill children. But her fight proceeds in subtle dimensions.

The story continues with her children. The chapter on Six, who is gifted as a child preacher, is layered with his deep belief that he is a deeply cruel and flawed person. His character development proceeds with the gifted crafting of the author. In fact each chapter reveals actions and characters with luminous contradictions. Mathis approaches some very basic issues of human life such as sexuality, parenting, and the struggle of marriage. And Mathisacquits herself well. Hattie is the theme that runs thoughout this book, and it is her life that informs that of her family.

This is an Oprah book. In this version, her highlights are also marked with an O which I found distracting and annoying. I have to say her notes on these passages were pertinent, but perhaps the signal could be more subtle. Of course this is an Oprah selection, and I bought it with this knowledge. The badges are far from ruining anything.

I recommend this book for the beauty of the writing and the virtuosity of character development.
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on January 19, 2013
First--let me say this...I did not read this book because Oprah recommended it. I have read a few of Oprah's recommendations in the past that were excellent reads. This book, however, came up short. This novel reads like a book of short stories. One could pick this book up and begin reading almost anywhere...that is how slight the cord is between each chapter. I liked M's Mathis's prose and the story she was presenting; the problem being that there was little in the way of explaining how her children got from point A to point B. She comes across like there is not a decent man in the world including her sons, and yet one will come away with the sense that not one daughter that comes out of the Shepherd family is decent either.
To put clothes on a child, a roof over their heads and food on a plate is all she does for her children. A child needs to feel love growing up and it seems Hattie's love dies with her twins. From chapter to chapter one will never read about an intermingling of siblings..whether it be rivalry, love, compassion or hate for one another. It is like Hattie and August had children and just did not know what to do with them.
Each chapter deals with a child and a slice of their life. Each chapter shows a dysfunctional child grown into a dysfunctional adult. Hattie in the end at the age of 71 is left to raise a grandchild and the cycle begins again. After eleven children she still has not a clue what children need. She is given this second chance to love a child and yet she reverts to what she thinks she knows to be true. She blames the children's feelings of not feeling loved on the fact that there were too many of them at one time to love and not enough time. Yet when left with this one child-a grandchild she reverts back to how she raised her first children instead of learning from her mistakes.
No where in this novel do the Shepherd children meet and interact. Slices of life are never followed up on--simply...what happened to Alice and Billups? What happenedd to Ella? Was she ever loved by Pearl's husband? Did her life turn out better? What became of Ruthie? There are too many unanswered lives in this book, too many unanswered questions.
I liked M's Mathis's writing. Would I recommend this book--NO--it isn't finished--there are chapters that need explanations. If this is M's Math's story on the "Great Migration" maybe she should have read a true story about poor people first, such as "Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel" by Jeannette Walls. A great English/ Literature teacher once told me...the best stories written are stories that have been lived by you the writer.
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on December 26, 2012
Hattie comes to Philly with a hope that is quickly and thoroughly stamped out by poverty, racism, philandering, and - honestly the worst offense I think - lack of reliable birth control. Hattie is scarred early, and it causes her to have an indifferent view of the lives of her kids, which causes them to have an indifferent view of themselves. She has too many children by her own admission, and it seems to suck the life out of her.

None of the characters are particularly likeable, nor are any able to lift themselves out of the shadow of their parents. Ms. Mathis conveys the difficulties of this generation of the The Great Migration well enough to know that no one had it easy. However, it seems that Hattie and her tribes were perfectly happy to perpetuate the cycles of dispair, depression, anger, and self-pity.
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on January 23, 2013
I just couldn't get into this book. I honestly tried, but it just didn't grab me as most good books do. Just because Oprah loved it and it's part of her book club 2.0, doesn't mean it's a good book. I guess it's a matter of writing style. The writer just jumped from character to character without first introducing who they were. (Spoiler alert) It would have been nice to know Hattie had several more children after the opening death of her twins. Introducing them as adults etc. just was frustration for me.
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