Lullabies for Little Criminals: A Novel Paperback – Oct 17 2006
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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.)
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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).Read more ›
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
So whackily beautiful. The characters are vivid, the writing is exquisite, the story line is an absolute killer.Published 19 days ago by Linda
Such an excellent book. My secondary 4 (equivalent of a US 10th Grade) English teacher made us read it, and I absolutely fell in love with this book. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Maxime Renaud
The matter-of-fact manner in which Baby relates the events in her life and the turmoil that life with her father, Jules, brings her will make you squirm in your seat. Read morePublished 6 months ago by ReignbowGirl
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 18 months ago by Wilfried goddyn
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 morePublished 22 months ago by Amazon Customer
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 morePublished 22 months ago by Marty T
I bought this book after browsing at my local bookstore and seeing it was a recommendation from staff. Read morePublished on Dec 14 2013 by L G Rogers
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 morePublished on July 5 2012 by Reader Writer Runner