Reviews for Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Booklist Reviews 2012 October #2
*Starred Review* This was not the life smart and lovely Hattie expected to live after fleeing Jim Crow Georgia in 1923 and settling in Philadelphia. Two years later, married (at 16) to an irresponsible man, she is poor, cold, hungry, and desperate as her twin babies sicken with pneumonia. Writing with stunning authority, clarity, and courage, debut novelist Mathis pivots forward in time, spotlighting intensely dramatic episodes in the lives of Hattie's nine subsequent children (and one grandchild to make the "twelve tribes"), galvanizing crises that expose the crushed dreams and anguished legacy of the Great Migration. While Hattie grows more stoic with each birth and each betrayal, her children struggle with her survival strategies, which they perceive as her coldness and anger. Hattie's daughters are epically depressed. Two sons end up in the South, shocked by its "backward country ways": Floyd, a jazz musician painfully conflicted over his attraction to men, and badly scarred Six, who discovers a gift for preaching. Late in life, Hattie thinks, "Here we are sixty years out of Georgia, . . . and there's still the same wounding and the same pain." Mathis writes with blazing insight into the complexities of sexuality, marriage, family relationships, backbone, fraudulence, and racism in a molten novel of lives racked with suffering yet suffused with beauty. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #1
The legacy of the Great Migration from the 1920s to the 1980s infuses this cutting, emotional collection of linked stories. The central figure of Mathis' debut is Hattie, who arrived in Philadelphia in the 1920s as a teenager, awed by the everyday freedoms afforded blacks outside of her native Georgia. But the opening story, "Philadelphia and Jubilee," is pure heartbreak, as pride and poverty keep her from saving her infant twin children from pneumonia. Though Mathis has inherited some of Alice Walker's sentimentality and Toni Morrison's poetic intonation, her own prose is appealingly earthbound and plainspoken, and the book's structure is ingenious: It moves across the bulk of the 20th century, with each chapter spotlighting one of Hattie's nine surviving children. (The title's "twelve tribes" are those nine children, plus the infant twins and a granddaughter who's central to the closing story.) Each child's personal struggle is a function of the casual bigotry and economic challenges in the wake of Jim Crow. Floyd is a jazz trumpeter and serial philanderer who awakens to his homosexuality; Six is a tent-revival preacher who comes at his profession cynically, as a way to escape his family; Alice is the well-off wife of a doctor with a co-dependent relationship with her brother, Billups; and so on. The longest and most disarming story features Bell, who in 1975 starts a relationship with one of Hattie's former boyfriends, highlighting the themes of illness and oppressiveness of family. Mathis will occasionally oversimplify dialogue to build drama, but she's remarkably deft at many more things for a first-timer: She gracefully shifts her narratives back and forth in time; has an eye for simple but resonant details; and possesses a generous empathy for Hattie, who is unlikable on the surface but carries plenty of complexity. An excellent debut that finds layers of pathos within a troubled clan. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 August #1
Winner of a Michener-Copernicus Fellowship, Mathis opens her career with a book about the Great Migration. Hattie Shepherd is only 17 when she leaves Georgia for Philadelphia, where she raises nine children. Theirs is a life of extraordinary hardship, reportedly told with unflinching beauty. A big push for this one. [Page 54]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 October #3
Mathis's remarkable debut traces the life of Hattie Shepherd through the eyes of her offspring, depicting a family whose members are distant, fiercely proud, and desperate for connection with their mother. When 16-year-old Hattie's newborn twins, her first with husband August, die from pneumonia in the winter of 1925, it is a devastation that will disfigure her for the rest of her life. As the novel moves from closeted musician Floyd's fearful attempt to love another man in 1948, to Six's flight to Alabama two years later after beating a boy nearly to death, Alice's rift with her brother Billups in the late 1960s, consumptive Bell's aborted suicide in 1975, and Cassie's descent into schizophrenia in the early 1980s, what ties these lives together is a longing for tenderness from the mother they call the General. Strong, angry Hattie despairs as August, an ineffectual though affectionate father, reveals himself to be a womanizer who is incapable of supporting the family. Hattie finds happiness with Lawrence, a gambler; after having his baby, Hattie leaves August and her other children and goes with Lawrence to Baltimore, but returns to the house on Wayne Street, in Philadelphia, almost immediately. Sick with longing for her dead twins and all that her children will never have, Hattie retreats into coldness. As her children age, they come to terms with their intense need for and resentment of the mother who kept them alive but starved their hearts, while Hattie faces a choice between anger and peace. Mathis weaves this story with confidence, proving herself a gifted and powerful writer. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (Jan.) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC