Ayana Mathis. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, 2013. 303 pages. ISBN 9780307949707.
Hattie was a young girl when she moved to Philadelphia with her mother and sisters. Marrying young, she ultimately had eleven children. Her adult life and relationships with her children were colored by the deaths of her first two children, twins who died of influenza or pneumonia. Hattie never recovered from their deaths, which turned her into a severe and critical woman who wasn't able to experience joy or express the love she felt for her other children. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie recounts the stories of each of her remaining children, many of whom suffered from mental illness and depression.
Author Ayana Mathis explores the effects of tragedy, mental illness, depression, and poverty on a family struggling to get by in this book set from the 1920s through 1980. Ultimately, Hattie understands how she has failed her family, and resolves not to do so again when Hattie's daughter Cassie succumbs to mental illness and leaves her daughter Sala in Hattie's care. It's well-written and compulsively readable, although I found the unending progression of sad and tragic stories hard to bear. Nevertheless, it provides much food for thought and discussion. This would be a good choice for book clubs and anyone else who enjoys contemporary fiction.