Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah's Book Club 2.0)The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although this book had a lot of flaws, I was entertained from the first word until the last. This is just the kind of book that tends to resonate with me - family drama, mental illness, and dysfunction. And this book is packed full with all of those things!

I really enjoyed how the story was told through chapters in the voice of the various characters. I thought it gave the reader an interesting perspective on the various characters over time. The only negative about that approach was that some of the characters were underdeveloped and I wish we'd had more time getting to know them and seeing where they land.

The themes of poverty, oppression, sexuality, mental illness and abuse were handled well - the stories in this novel are not happy ones. It's sad and frustrating. There is little hope in what Ayana Mathis shares with these stories. The cyclical nature of poverty and abuse is not a new concept but I think this book does a good job exploring these in a myriad of ways.

I kept hearing about how this book explored the Great Migration but frankly I think that is very misleading. The Great Migration is perhaps 1% of the total story. It's primarily a psychological study of this particular family - it's essentially series of short stories about the various people in this particular family. They are connected yet disconnected at the same time. Or at least that is how it felt to me.

The first chapter resonated with me the most. Perhaps its because I am a mom of twins and can't begin to imagine how I'd react to what Hattie has to face in that chapter. Ayana Mathis was able to make the events of that chapter leap off the page for me, making it feel as if I was there with her, experiencing each and every emotion myself. It truly made me FEEL which I think is the mark of a good story.

The primary flaw (for me) was that the novel definitely felt like it was written by a first time novelist. It had that feeling that first books often have ... as if it was not quite what it could have been. The book didn't quite come together as well as I think it could have. There were structural issues with the novel that made it less successful overall. And I have to admit that there were times when I did find some of the stories to be contrived and even far fetched. Yet, I was engaged so I don't think it had a HUGE impact but it was a thought that came to mind as I was reading. Anyway, I think this one is quite good but not great. It really could have been great, I think. I suspect that we will be seeing great things from Ayana Mathis in the years to come. She is obviously talented and I am interested to see what she brings to the table in future novels. As she matures as a novelist, I think she has potential to blow us away one day!

I liked that the book didn't end with everything tied up neatly with a bow. I liked the ambiguity of what happens to these people. I liked that the ending seemed to acknowledge that there was no magic bullet making everything OK. There isn't necessarily redemption. But let's face it - happy endings aren't always realistic. I thought the ending of this novel fit with the flow of the story and I felt satisfied with how it all ended.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this novel. Although I definitely think it's not for everyone, I really did like this one. I think it's got a lot of interesting things to talk about and explore. But, it's not light and airy - it's dark and sad. If you're comfortable with going to

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