Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis~★★★

Author: Ayana Mathis
Title: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Release Date: December 6, 2012
Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition; read by Adenrele Ojo, Bahni Turpin, and Adam Lazarre-White
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "A debut of extraordinary distinction: through the trials of one unforgettable family, Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration, a story of love and bitterness and the promise of a new America.
In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointments and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them. 
Captured here in twelve luminous threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation. Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis's The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life." 

Taryn's Review: I listened to this book and it was eight CDs long. In other words, it took a long time to complete because I haven't been in the car very much! The book was written so Hattie, the main character, was described from the perspective of her children.  Early in the book it was explained that Hattie's mother had died after the family moved from Georgia to Philadelphia, and how Hattie's mother disliked August, who would become Hattie's husband. The chapters in the book range in years from 1925-1980 and discuss the children: Jubilee, Philadelphia, Floyd, Six, Cassie, Belle, Alice, Billips, Franklin, Ruthie, Ella and Hattie's granddaughter, Sala. (Since I did not have the text, I am guessing regarding the spelling of names.)

While reading the book, it reminded me of the way tragedies tend to plague particular family lines. Each child was affected differently because of Hattie's harsh mothering; what the children could not realize was that their mother's behavior was correlated to her own troubled marriage and past hurts. In a way, Hattie passed down her hurts to her children, who manifested their pain in varying outlets. Of all the children's stories, I think Belle's stuck out the most for me because it involved a twist that was painful for all parties involved, and Belle did not recognize the magnitude of what her actions did to her mother.

My heart did hurt for Hattie. I cannot imagine being fifteen-years-old, having a mother die, marrying a man who left you once already, and bearing twins, only to have them die months after their birth from a curable illness. August turned out to be a womanizer who left Hattie and the children at night while he wasted money on alcohol and other women as Hattie scraped to pay the bills and put food on the table.

The story was bleak. Near the end of the book, Hattie's thoughts reflected that her coldness and lack of tenderness toward her children was conscious, and that she did it to protect her children from the harsh realities of the world. The world would not love them, and she felt was preparing them for such pain. However, Hattie was responsible for some of the pain in her children's lives.

I wasn't pleased with the main reader of this book at first, but later it felt like she settled into the role and had a better grasp on the characters and their distinct voices. She read almost all of the book, but for some reason Franklin's story was read by a man and Cassie's story was read by a different actress. I don't know why the shift for just those two characters. I wasn't overly impressed with the male actor's reading of Franklin, but I did enjoy the actress who read Cassie's story. She captured the frightening nature of what was happening to Cassie perfectly.

Mathis is a strong author, but I really disliked the lack of closure in the book. A brief snippet of each child's life created a disjointedness that was not rectified at the end of the book. I would read/listen to another of Mathis's books, but the main storyline of this book wasn't my favorite. I appreciated her attempt to have alternative viewpoints in the book, but in this case, it was too many. For example, Floyd and Six had their chapters and then they were barely mentioned again in the book. An ambitious idea, yes, but I don't think the execution was a great use for this particular story. The overarching theme of the Great Migration and the realization that hope and dreams were not within reach for all in the North was interesting, but it was very latent in the book. That notion did not stay in my mind as I read the book, so it was hard for me to remember to connect that to each child as I made my way through the story. I wouldn't deter someone from reading the story, but I don't think it is one of those books that will stay at the forefront of my mind.