The Twelve Tribes of Hattie Reading Group Guide

Dive into Oprah's latest pick for Oprah's Book Club 2.0 with 16 questions about Ayana Mathis's stunning first novel, The Tribes of Hattie.

In the chapter called "Ruthie," we see Hattie being drawn away from her family (and from her husband, August) to another man. When, in Baltimore, she decides to leave Lawrence and return home, what do you think is in her mind?

When Hattie reluctantly, bitterly, hands over custody of Ella to her sister, Pearl, what ending do you imagine the event will have in terms of Ella's life and in terms of Pearl's relationship with her sister?

In the Alice and Billups chapter, Alice realizes she has lost her relationship with her brother Billups to her maid, Eudine. What do you think the author is saying about Alice by having her condescend terribly to the maid who has become her brother's fiancée?

In the "Franklin" chapter, the author varies tones and locales, shifting to 1969, to Vietnam, where Franklin is a soldier. This character feels more distant not only geographically but also in terms of how much of a window the reader gets into his thinking. Why do you think the author chose this approach for Franklin's chapter?

The chapter titled "Bell," set in 1975, finds Hattie's daughter Bell in a state of despair over a breakup, and over a betrayal she's committed. She's very ill—and unwilling to try and get better. She and her mother haven't spoken in years because of that betrayal, which involves Lawrence, Hattie's lost love. Still, it is only Hattie who is finally able to nurse Bell back to health, revealing that while Hattie may not show her maternal nature very often, it's still there. Discuss the deep bond between Bell and Hattie, and the return of Lawrence.

What do you think Bell's motivation is for entering into a relationship with Lawrence? And do you think Lawrence is aware of Bell's relationship to Hattie on any level? What does this say about Lawrence?

The chapter about Cassie is so painful to read because it gets inside the mind of someone who has lost herself—who is devastatingly mentally ill. When you read this chapter, do you think of Cassie's illness as something that sprang organically from who she is (nature), or do you see it as the result of Hattie's grief and lack of tenderness (nurture)?
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