My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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 disappointment 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, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.
I was excited to read this book because I love historical fiction and the story line sounded compelling– the story of a mother’s love and how her children were changed by that love, whether they could feel it or not.
My first impression of author Ayana Mathis is that she is skilled in the art of showing-not-telling. Her words paint a picture of her world so vivid that I feel like I walk the streets with one and sit in the park with the other and perch on the side of the bed of yet another. I loved the idea of intertwining vignettes of each of her children. Part of the reason I avoid anthologies is because I’m a novel reader at heart. I need each chapter to have something to do with the one before it. This was done perfectly.
The chapters themselves… well I found some of her children wildly intriguing: Six, Bell, Alice… I couldn’t read fast enough. Sala and Cassie’s stories were heartbreaking and riveting. Some chapters I just couldn’t grasp enough of an understanding and I moved on feeling confused and unfulfilled.
I was especially interested in the personal relationships– how Hattie was different with Lawrence than she was with her husband and even her sisters; how she was so cold and regimented toward her family but seemed so warm and loving toward others. I loved the description of her demeanor toward the end, how she seemed to have softened up and how she was there to rescue Bell, who’d given up on their relationship.
In all, I felt the book was ‘okay’. Not something I’d read over and over but not wholly awful. I would read another book by Ms. Mathis.