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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)
List Price: CDN$ 17.50
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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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Lullabies For Little Criminals: A Novel + The Girl Who Was Saturday Night + The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
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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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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best of 2006 Feb. 7 2007
Format:Paperback
Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals was one of the best books I read from the 2006 season. It is the story of Baby, a 12 year old girl who lives with her heroin addicted father Jules. They live perilous lives, but Baby doesn't mind because she loves her dad and they are together. When Jules goes into rehab Baby is placed in foster care and her life spirals away from what little protection and stability it had The narrative voice of this twelve year old was completely believable. O'Neill captures the essence of the child teetering on the edge of a very nasty adulthood. The little girl who sits down and plays with dolls after turning tricks is heartbreaking. Baby's relationship with the nerdy kid Xavier in her class is one of the joys of the book. With him she can be a child, have a friend, be openly as smart as she is and feel the stirrings of first love (even though she is already a prostitute). This is a book that you sometimes have to put down and walk away from, but you always come back because the writing is so sharp and clear and the character of Baby is so well drawn that you really care about what happens to her.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliance... Sheer Brilliance April 27 2008
Format:Paperback
I hadn't heard anything about this novel before I read it. I became interested in it based on the plot and intrigued by its status as the winner of Canada Reads. As it turns out, I absolutely devoured this novel in just over a day during my Christmas holidays. As a student, it's such a treat to read something that means something to me that I can pick apart and keep the parts of the novel that I like without it becoming sterile and overkilled. I love this novel entirely, and that's what I found while reading it.

What I find beautiful about this book is what I have found a lot of people criticize about it. For one, that the characters all seem overly naive and simplistic and everything seems taken in stride. I found this to be a haunting layer to the novel in that Baby, the protagonist, is only 12. She longs for childhood, she longs to see things through a child's eyes, despite that it becomes increasingly difficult for her too. The almost lighthearted tone of her relationship with her father seems purposeful, to project a sort of longing for simplicity in her life. As well, a lack of understanding and most importantly, to demonstrate that these misfortunes, tragedies and sadnesses happen to Baby all the time. This is her life. This is what she's used to. The simplicity of her vision reflects that so perfectly and seems a clear reason for the first-person narration.

Something else that people criticize about "Lullabies" is the lack of dramatic tension, the fact that it is obvious nothing happens to Baby and so the novel seems boring and predictable. While I was reading this, I found the fact that she doesn't die (or worse) incredible.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book May 9 2012
By Kel Jo
Format:Paperback
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. I found it very well written and couldn't put it down
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5.0 out of 5 stars Painful to read, beautifully crafted April 20 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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. A book about love, deprivation and strength.
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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 28 days ago by Wilfried goddyn
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 5 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 9 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
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
1.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get into it
This book was long and horrible. I think from what I have learned from the people that I have lent it out too is that you rather love it or hate it.
Published on Dec 1 2010 by A,Phillips
5.0 out of 5 stars You have to read this!
This book is absolutely fantastic. The writer's style is very disarming and allows you to see the world through a child's eyes. Read more
Published on May 23 2010 by S. Roberts
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