Youíve always tried to do best for your family.


You make sure everyoneís fed nutritious food three times a day. You put clothes on their bodies, bubbles in their baths, and a soft bed beneath them every night. There are toys on the floor, couple dollars in the bank, holidays are all good, and you do your best to make sure it stays that way.


But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things just go bad. Thatís when, as in the new novel ďThe Twelve Tribes of HattieĒ by Ayana Mathis, doing your best just isnít good enough.


Floyd always thought of himself as the oldest Shepherd child, even though the twins came before him. His mother, Hattie, never forgot about her dead babies and as a result, Floyd and his siblings grew up in a suffocating house. That was good reason to leave home as soon as he could. Why he felt a strong pull toward loving young men, well, he couldnít answer that.


Just 15, Six wondered if he had somehow inherited his motherís temper. People thought he was a quiet child; poor Six with scars from that long-ago accident. What they didnít know was that the accident charred more than just his skin: he burned with fire enough to beat another boy near to death, and he burned with the Holy Spirit.


Growing up, Alice was like a mother to her own brothers and sisters. It almost had to be that way; their father, August, was always away, and Hattie had her hands full with babies. Alice had a particular soft spot for her brother, Billup, and she promised to take special care of him for life.


Billup didnít need Alice, and he told her so. She didnít need to protect him any more. She wasnít the one who was molested, anyhow.


And there were always more babies. Ruthie, who was the child of another man. Ella, whom Hattie gave away. Bell , always on the outside.


And then there was Sala, the child Hattie could do right by.


The child she could save. The child who could save her.


Who can resist a book that starts out sweet, quickly turns tragic, gives you hope and then Ö well, not me. Thatís why I loved ďThe Twelve Tribes of HattieĒ so much.


Author Ayana Mathis doesnít bother to tug on our heartstrings in this book. No, she rips at them with this story of a woman who holds her hurts close and in doing so, makes her pain echo through several decades.


Where this book shines is in Mathisí character development: itís oh-so-very easy to forget that the people arenít real. Youíll squirm at some of the troubles here. For sure, there are parts of this book that will make you breathless.


Be aware that you may want a tissue for parts of this novel. Be aware that you wonít be able to put this book down.


If you need a good story in the worst way, ďThe Twelve Tribes of HattieĒ may be best.


Terri Schlichenmeyer is a professional book reviewer. She lives in Wisconsin.


ďThe Twelve Tribes of HattieĒ


By Ayana Mathis


c.2012, Knopf, $24.95


247 pages