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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Ayana Mathis won the author lottery when Oprah Winfrey announced that her debut novel is the next book club pick. Winfrey, who decided to select it before she finished the first chapter, said that while reading the book, she knew she was "witnessing a great writer's career begin." Cue media frenzy, leaping sales and comparisons to Toni Morrison.

These accolades are not undeserved. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a stirring, soulful novel that spans 60 years and is told in many rich and varied voices. It's the story of one formidable woman, and of her children--the "tribes"--at different stages of their sprawling lives. It's the story of the Great Migration, and of its ripping, aching effects across the 20th century.

The book consists of 12 distinct narratives that never lose sight of the titular Hattie as the book's soul and core. She is made of grit and steel, a woman hardened by disillusionment and circumstance who knows that her children do not think her kind. "They didn't understand that all the love she had was used up on feeding them and clothing them and preparing them to meet the world," Hattie reflects. "The world would not love them; the world would not be kind."

And it wasn't.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie wallops you from the first chapter, but the book's emotional power grows with the story as the decades pass and the scope of this family's life is revealed. Full of hard revelations and unlikely redemptions, Hattie is an ambitious debut by a writer who has just been fast-tracked to worthy success. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice