Livingston Loves Lit: “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” Part 4

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Here we are with the final questions for this particular book. I hope you enjoyed the story Ayana Mathis wrote as well as the discussion generated here.

1. In the “Franklin” chapter the author varies the tense as well as the locale. What effect did this have on the story?

2. Why do you think Bell was so prepared and/or determined to die? Had she just given up or was part of it aimed at punishing Hattie?

3. Cassie’s chapter was painful to read. We got deeply into a mind riddled with mental illness and how that affects those around her. Did you ever question whether it was nature or nurture?

4. The final chapter revealed a three- generational bond between Hattie, Cassie and Sala. How did you feel at the end of this chapter and the book?

1. I thought her use of tense was incredibly effective. When we’re with Franklin in Vietnam, the present tense puts us right there with him, in the middle of the action, in the middle of his thoughts. The other sections reveal his relationship with Sissy and they are in the past, just as his relationship is. The tense change separates him from his past, isolating him as well, physically and emotionally.

2. I think it was a combination. Of all the relationships with her children, the one with Bell seemed the most complicated. Part of Bell was ready to give up. She’d had a hard life. Walter had left, she was losing her apartment, her health. But I also think that a part of her relished the idea of her dying without Hattie knowing about it. The shame it would cause Hattie. Like I said, very complicated.

3. Cassie’s mental illness was so powerfully explored that I never once considered it was the result of anything Hattie did or didn’t do. It was an illness just as diabetes is an illness.

4. This was a powerful chapter, appropriate considering it is the end of the story. By the time I go to the last couple of pages, I was in awe of the characters, especially Hattie, that Mathis had brought into this world. The ending felt exactly right. She managed to bring the story full circle without tying it up in a neat little bow. I almost cried when I read the following: “Hattie didn’t know how to save her granddaughter. She felt as overwhelmed and unprepared as she had when she was a young mother at seventeen. Here we are sixty years out of Georgia, she thought, a new generation has been born, and there’s still the same wounding and the same pain. I can’t allow it. She shook her head. I can’t allow it.” If I was ever doubtful of Hattie’s devotion to her family, this passage erased it for me.

I’ll be choosing our next selection soon and the discussion will take place over the summer months of June, July and August. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

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