The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Title: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Author: Ayana Mathis
Genre: Historical fiction

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s


This book is divided into sections representing Hattie’s progeny. The first chapter takes place in 1925 and the last in 1980, so a lot of time is covered. The format shares a lot with the “short story” format, though there is enough continuity for it to be called a novel. While I was reading it, I wondered how the book would have looked if it were a family saga twice the length (I’m generally not a huge fan of short stories), but I like what Mathis did here. I can’t really think of a better or more concise way to get the picture we got; so it turns out that what I initially thought was a weakness–looking at Hattie, the family, and the setting through each child individually–was a great storytelling choice.

A lot of topics are covered–racism, homophobia, poverty, mental illness, domestic violence and abuse in families, addictions, class, religion, self-destruction… there are probably some I’m forgetting… And even though none of them are handled too extensively in the 250 page book, it doesn’t feel like Mathis really short-changes you on any of them, either. Although she doesn’t spend a ton of time on the backstory, the feeling of completeness or full understanding is there.

Also, I really liked the ending 🙂


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