This was the first fiction book in Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. That sort of influenced my decision in choosing to read it. See here.
This book is the story of Hattie and August, and their twelve children. It begins with them as a newly married couple, with twins: Philadelphia and Jubilee (a lot of her children have interesting names).
Hattie is only seventeen, and loves her babies fiercely, all the more so because her own mother has recently passed away. Unfortunately, within the first chapter of this book, the two contract pneumonia and die within a matter of days. (Not a spoiler because this was on the book jacket, plus it’s in the first chapter, and even though you know it’s coming, it is still so heartbreaking.)
Hattie never really gets over the loss of her babies, becoming more distant and harsh with her future children, closing herself off as much as she can to prevent that kind of pain again. Despite this shell, she is hurt again and again by her loyalty to her children. One has epilepsy, another becomes schizophrenic, another contracts tuberculosis, and yet another is molested as a child. She takes these pains to heart even though she doesn’t always show it to her children.
The book is established with a different character each chapter, and the year. It progresses chronologically, but jumps from story to story, and not all of Hattie’s children are covered, which I didn’t like. There were a lot of questions left unanswered, and I frequently found myself disappointed when characters were not mentioned again. Some of the stories were better than others, although none of the characters were all that likeable. I found it hard to love Hattie, although I pitied her most of the time. I understood her distance from her children after such an awful loss, but I was angry with the way she treated her subsequent children. They needed love and affection, and she did not provide that for them. Granted, the woman had a gambling, philandering husband who squandered away any meager savings she had managed to keep, but nonetheless, she was not the best role model.
Because of the character transitions between chapters, the book felt disjointed to me. There was, of course, the familial connection between all of the characters, but there was little to tie them together throughout. Also, the book left a lot unexplained, and kept me wondering about how situations had or had not worked themselves out.
I enjoyed the book overall, but it was hard for me to feel attached to anyone, and when I did, they were never heard from again. I felt the book could have flowed a lot better too, and remained more connected to the family by simply referring to the previously mentioned characters more often.
If you are looking for a story told from different viewpoints, try Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan.
Looking for a family novel that spans generations? The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.