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Lullabies For Little Criminals: A Novel [Paperback]

Heather O'Neill
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 5 2006 P.S.

A gritty, heart-wrenching novel about bruised innocence on the city's feral streets—the remarkable debut of a stunning literary talent

Heather O'Neill dazzles with a first novel of extraordinary prescience and power, a subtly understated yet searingly effective story of a young life on the streets—and the strength, wits, and luck necessary for survival.

At thirteen, Baby vacillates between childhood comforts and adult temptation: still young enough to drag her dolls around in a vinyl suitcase yet old enough to know more than she should about urban cruelties. Motherless, she lives with her father, Jules, who takes better care of his heroin habit than he does of his daughter. Baby's gift is a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. But her blossoming beauty has captured the attention of a charismatic and dangerous local pimp who runs an army of sad, slavishly devoted girls—a volatile situation even the normally oblivious Jules cannot ignore. And when an escape disguised as betrayal threatens to crush Baby's spirit, she will ultimately realize that the power of salvation rests in her hands alone.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In her debut novel, This American Life contributor O'Neill offers a narrator, Baby, coming of age in Montreal just before her 12th birthday. Her mother is long dead. Her father, Jules, is a junkie who shuttles her from crumbling hotels to rotting apartments, his short-term work or moneymaking schemes always undermined by his rage and paranoia. Baby tries to screen out the bad parts by hanging out at the community center and in other kids' apartments, by focusing on school when she can and by taking mushrooms and the like. (She finds sex mostly painful.) Stints in foster care, family services and juvenile detention ("nostalgia could kill you there") usually end in Jules's return and his increasingly erratic behavior. Baby's intelligence and self-awareness can't protect her from parental and kid-on-kid violence, or from the seductive power of being desired by Alphonse, a charismatic predator, on the one hand, and by Xavier, an idealistic classmate, on the other. When her lives collide, Baby faces choices she is not equipped to make. O'Neill's vivid prose owes a debt to Donna Tartt's The Little Friend; the plot has a staccato feel that's appropriate but that doesn't coalesce. Baby's precocious introspection, however, feels pitch perfect, and the book's final pages are tear-jerkingly effective. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Baby's mother is dead; her hapless father is a heroin addict; home is a series of tiny, increasingly squalid apartments in Montreal's seedier precincts; her boyfriend is a pimp; and--about the time she turns 13--she becomes a prostitute. Not exactly the stuff of Sweet Valley High--more like the worst of the teen problem novels of the 1970s--on steroids! And, yet, first-time-author O'Neill somehow infuses her troubling story with a kind of heartbreaking innocence, thanks to her central conceit that Baby, her father (who was only 15 when she was born), and her friends are only pretending to be criminals to get by. The question of whether they will get by adds an element of suspense to this sad, almost wistful story, which occasionally strays dangerously close to sentimentality. O'Neill is a wonderful stylist, though, and the voice she has created for Baby is original and altogether captivating. Michael Cart
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wry and winsome tragicomedy Jan. 19 2011
Format:Paperback
I picked this audiobook without knowing anything at all about it, so it was all a surprise to me. Now, a few days later, I have no doubt that this tragicomic book will make my top 5 list for 2011. I listened to this audiobook, and then right out and bought a paper copy. I have ordered copies for a couple of people in my family who I think will also really like it. It's that good.

The narrator of Lullabies for Little Criminals seems to be an adult retelling the events following her twelfth birthday. Her fifteen year old parents labeled her with the unfortunate name of Baby, which was meant to be ironic and she was told that it meant she was "cool and gorgeous." Her mom died while she was a baby, and she had been raised by her childlike, dysfunctional heroin addicted father, Jules in a series of seedy hotels in Montreal. For the first part of the book, I found Baby's voice utterly charming and rather funny. However, as the story progressed and Baby's life spiralled out of control, I realized that this book was significantly more serious than I had originally expected. Baby's voice, however, remained constant throughout--poetic, keenly observant, beautifully sad and vivid, both wry and winsome at the same time. Baby is smitten with low-lifes and bohemians, and this book is full of them--guidance from healthy adults is sorely missing.

O'Neill is shrewdly accurate in capturing the dialogue of this culture. The reader of this audiobook, Miriam McDonald, captured the tone perfectly. The author gives us a view of the gritty side of Montreal seen through the eyes of a twelve-year old, full of her innocence and imagination. Beyond that, the writing was a delight to both hear and read. I just didn't want this book to end, which is unusual for me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars well-written but a bit flat Sept. 8 2009
By Andrea
Format:Paperback
[Cross-posted on LibraryThing]

In Lullabies, we follow twelve-year-old Baby as she comes of age in the red light district of Montreal surrounded by drug addicts, pimps, and other neglected children. Her father is a junkie who can't seem to kick his habit and doesn't see the effect it has on his daughter. Her mother died when she was a baby and left a void that Baby constantly tries to fill in completely inappropriate ways.

Baby's story is heartbreaking and it's unsettling to read about a twelve-year-old being taken advantage of by pimps and trying to score heroin in a night club. There were times as I was reading that I'd have to remind myself that all of these adult things are being recounted by a child. The story was very well-written and it had moments that were genuinely funny. I enjoyed reading it (as much you can 'enjoy' a book about sad things) but ultimately, it didn't move me as much as I'd thought it would. Despite the subject matter being so heavy and all of these things happening to Baby that would have a big emotional impact on her, they are told in such a matter-of-fact, sort of detached way that it was hard to really connect with it.

I also got a sense that the author was holding something back. As Baby gets deeper and deeper into bad situations, you keep expecting the consequences to get worse and something really terrible to happen because in reality, they certainly would for a girl doing the things she does. But O'Neill seems to avoid going too deep. She sets it up, then pulls back. This was my issue with the ending as well. *Minor spoiler alert* The book seemed to be building up towards a dramatic climax, you think things can't possibly get worse for Baby, and then suddenly, she's free and all is well (relatively speaking).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting April 28 2010
By Heather Pearson TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Lullabies by Little Criminals is a debut novel by Canadian author Heather O'Neill.

As the story opens, Baby is living with her father, Jules, in Montreal, Quebec. The one contant in her pre-teen life, is that they are frequently moving apartments. She was born when her parents were just sixteen and figuring out how to grow up. Her mother died when Baby was a few months old. Her father tries his best to raise her, but his poor health and recurring heroin habit has made that almost impossible.

As we follow Baby over the course of the next year and a half to two years, she grows from a girl still carrying dolls around to a street wise, though abused, young woman.

I found this a very hard book to listen to. I had to repeat several sections as I felt that I must have misheard. Those "horrible things" couldn't really be happening to Baby. While my rational mind knew that this was a story, the mother in me cried copious tears for those little girls who fell through the welfare/social work gaps and ended up on the streets living just such a life. In the final chapter of the story, Baby is given a chance to escape the life she has fallen into. I like to imagine that she had the strength to leave and seek helprefuge.

Is this a coming of age story, a commentary on responsible parenting, or a diatribe on the state of child welfare in Canada. For me, I found it to be mostily the first, though with the continuing cuts to our social system....

The book was read by Miriam McDonald. I felt that she enhanced my enjoyment of this novel.

Lullabies for Little Criminals was a finalist for the 2007 Governor General Awards in Canada, and the winner of the Canada Reads 2007 competition.

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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars found it beautiful but also disturbing but this is what's going on ...
what life is for some children, found it beautiful but also disturbing but this is what's going on for a lot of children today.
Published 2 months ago by Wilfried goddyn
5.0 out of 5 stars Painful to read, beautifully crafted
One is really drawn in, rooting for Baby, whose childhood is is not a land of comfort, magic or security. She survives because of her strength and instincts. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally draining and uplifting
This book held me in an emotionally grip like none I have ever read. It was both exhausting and uplifting at the same time. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Marty T
5.0 out of 5 stars A real view of the world of poverty and addiction from a child eyes
I bought this book after browsing at my local bookstore and seeing it was a recommendation from staff. Read more
Published 10 months ago by L G Rogers
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts...
Heather O'Neill's novel reads like a raw and grimy account of a girl, ironically named Baby, who grows up with no mother, an addict father, and an uncanny ability to survive even... Read more
Published on July 5 2012 by Reader Writer Runner
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
Looking at the world through the eyes of the narrator pulls you into a world of poverty, drug abuse and prostitution but what is weird is that it isn't a negative/heavy read. Read more
Published on May 9 2012 by Kel Jo
4.0 out of 5 stars Good visuals
I read this book many years ago and recall liking it because it had such "taboo" topics. I think I fell in love with the idea that it was a book from a world not near my own, and... Read more
Published on April 26 2012 by Corinne Heart
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, Great Prce
Very interesting book. Heartwarming and easy to follow with well written characters. Pulls you in and won't let you go until the last page. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2012 by Gizmo
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
I read this over a weekend and couldn't put it down. It was very well written and a very different (in a good way) read!
Published on July 4 2011 by Scrabuple
5.0 out of 5 stars A coming of age story with a difference
This is the best book I've read in a very long time. It was funny and sad and hopeful. It showed so well how circumstances circumscribe choices, and how it's not necessarily... Read more
Published on Feb. 19 2011 by Zoom
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