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on January 19, 2011
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. Unfortunately for us, thus far Lullabies is O'Neill's only novel.

While I widely recommend this book, it isn't for every reader, despite winning the CBC Canada Reads competition in 2007. Readers who are highly sensitive to swearing will quickly be turned off. The bad language, however, is not gratuitous, but an accurate portrayal of the language of her world. Further, the book dives deep into the nasty side of life, including drug addictions and child prostitution. But unless you're extremely squeamish about these topics, I urge you to give this book a try.

Lullabies for Little Criminals was nominated for the Orange Prize, Governor General's Award, IMPAC Dublin Literary award, and a whole slew of other prizes.
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on February 7, 2007
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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on April 27, 2008
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. Her ability to survive in this world and her dependence on luck and wit without even realizing she needs to depend on these things is amazingly and accurately portrayed.

All of these episodic events in her life are completely horrendous, all the other side characters are so tragic, all the adults are so selfish. And yet, the book is so completely beautiful that it's almost easy for us as readers to be caught up in the sweeping imagery that eclipses the horror story of this novel. Yet, gruesome, difficult-to-handle scenes pull us back in and remind us that this is Baby's brutal reality, something that she managed to find beautiful when she was 12.

O'Neill handles delicate characters with often rough, unsympathetic hands and yet, there is sympathy in even the most minute child in the novel. She walks a perfect line between tragic and gorgeous and does it so eloquently, I was in awe.

There are too many reasons to love this book. Read it and see why for yourself.
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on December 14, 2013
I bought this book after browsing at my local bookstore and seeing it was a recommendation from staff. I used to work with addicted adults and (fortunately) was very unaware of the impacts of "street life and addiction" to children born to parent(s) of this lifestyle. A very simple read and may be suitable for teens. I couldn't book the down and as I read I was torn between smiles and tears as "Baby" described her life and her simple view of her world. She unconditionally loved her Dad and was unaware of his actually being severely neglectful. "Jules" loved his little girl too but had no idea how to raise a child. Her own evolution into the street underworld a sad reality.
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on May 9, 2012
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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on August 6, 2007
,,,Something about the title appealed to me right away,,this book had me hooked from the first page. Not only was the story of Baby so fascinating but the descriptions of every day street life were wonderfully written, in such an unusual style, it had me stopping to read paragraphs over again,,they delighted me so much,,,. I could not put it down,,,and it stayed with me for months after. You come to care about Baby,,and can feel her hopelessness in the situation she is in,,yet also begin to feel compassion for her young,abusive,immature addicted Father who doesnt know any better. What got me, apart from the main theme of street life and child abuse of course,,,was the fact that Baby thought that social workers and fosters parents really cared about her welfare, but soon realised it was just a job to them,,and she wasnt special afterall. You get to understand why she turns to drugs for comfort,,,all cleverly told thru a 12yr olds eyes,,it is riveting reading.
Baby is still in my thoughts every so often. My daughter's too,,she read it and loved it just as I did. Heather O'Neill's novel is brilliant,,,and she is now on the top of my favourite Canadian writers of all time list. Cant wait to read something else from her. Highly recommended.
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on March 19, 2007
The cover of this book is somewhat deception, in my opinion. I was thinking, "Okay, simple story, etc." but no, it's much more. No wonder it's been compared to a books such as "The Glass Castle" and "Bark of the Dogwood" with their similar themes and hardships on kids growing up. The real difference is that "Lullabies" takes place over a single year. Baby is the main character in this hard-to-put-down novel, and we see events through her eyes. Her father is a heroin addict--need I say more? There are scenes that reminded me of Frey's "A Million Little pieces" though the books couldn't be farther apart thematically. I'm talking about the detox scenes, etc. Some scenes in this book will be hard, really hard to take, as they're graphic and heart-wrenching. The voice of Baby is somewhat unusual, sounding as someone has already said, a bit like Holden Caufield--she's a spirited youth with brains to back it up and this alone is probably the reason she survived. Often, when I think of Montreal, I don't think of it in these terms, the way the author has painted this portrait of sides and places I don't see. I was a real eye-opener and for that I'm grateful. I'm also grateful for an excellent story. Would also recommend the novel "Night."
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on December 11, 2015
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.

Taking place of my home city of Montreal, you learn about the incredibly hard life of a kid that must turn to prostitution to make ends meet.

You really feel like you are in the mind of a 12 year old girl that was forced into prostitution. It terrifying, but I could not stop reading (and re-reading it).
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on February 19, 2011
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 anybody's fault. It was tender and compassionate, not just to the protagonist, but to her outlook on life. A hard life does not always make people hard.

I fell in love with this book and its perfectly flawed characters. I think I'll be carrying them around with me for the rest of my life.
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on February 4, 2012
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. A real page turner that brings you back and forth seamlessly between the world of a little girls imagination and the cruel world of reality.
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