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Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather…
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Lullabies for Little Criminals (2006)

by Heather O'Neill

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,255636,309 (3.91)1 / 275
  1. 10
    Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (vancouverdeb)
    vancouverdeb: Both books have a young narrator,and are growing up mainly on their own, in inner cities,dealing with lack of parenting, gangs,drugs,prostitution.
  2. 00
    Salvation by Lucia Nevai (KatyBee)
  3. 11
    Fruit by Brian Francis (Nickelini)
    Nickelini: Different subject matter, similar voice, both Canada Reads contenders (Lullabies won, Fruit came in . . . 2nd, I think)
  4. 00
    Broken by Daniel Clay (airdna)
  5. 01
    A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (sushidog)
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English (62)  Italian (1)  All (63)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Baby is 11-13 years old during the events in the book, and her dad, Jules, has raised her since her mom died when she was 16 (both her parents were 15 when Baby was born). Although Jules does seem to love Baby, and they have fun together, he does a lot of drugs, so there are times when Baby is moved into foster care. She's a smart girl and she tries to be good, but as she gets older, she manages to get into more and more scrapes, including befriending a local pimp.

This was really good. It's sad (but easy) to see how a good kid could get into trouble, with a neglectful parent who is more concerned about himself and getting high. You could see Baby trying to be good, and wanting to do normal "kid" stuff, but at the same time, she's pulled into an adult world. Very good book. ( )
1 vote LibraryCin | Mar 22, 2017 |
Lullabies for Little Criminals is a hard-hitting story about Baby, a 12 year old girl being brought up by her young father who is in poor health, is fairly uneducated and is a drug addict. Despite his best intentions and a love of sorts for the child, his immaturity, ignorance and lack of opportunities make him wholly unfit for the job of parenting and for providing for a family.

Although she is a child with great intellect and potential, we witness firsthand the spiralling, destructive impact that Baby's broken home environment has on her young life. It is an all too real story of the repercussions of neglect and abject poverty.

Whilst there are numerous fictional novels set in a similar environment, O'Neill achieves something special in this novel. Told in the first person by Baby, we experience the story both through Baby's eyes and through our own eyes as an adult reader. As a reader we see the smaller forks in the road and the inevitable bigger picture road to ruin that they lead to, yet in parallel we experience what it is like to be inside the head of that 12 year old, and why those decisions seem like the right ones at the time.

Heather O'Neill does an amazing job of authenticating that juvenile thought process. She was brought up in a similarly impoverished neighbourhood, and manages to develop this insight to the next level, so accurately understanding the emotional needs and reactions of that age.

After reading it I honestly feel like I understand the true cycle of poverty so much better. Despite his total failure as a father, we could understand Baby's dad at times - he undoubtedly loved her, but he had neither the intelligence nor opportunity to pull himself out of that environment. He had no role models, he was emotionally unequipped for the task, he had little resources with which to pull himself out of poverty with, he was mentally unstable from drug addiction, and he knew of no other way of living so felt there was nothing better to strive for.

Baby craves all that he cannot give her - stability, consistency, safety, physical affection, boundaries and encouragement. We see through her eyes how children will look for emotional support and connection wherever they can find it. Let down by a proper system of adult support, there is unfortunately no shortage of lowlifes to prey on their vulnerability, and in small steps they stray from the path into the undergrowth.

The psychology of this book will stay with me for quite some time - it's not often that I feel like I'm thinking through the head of the main character to such an extent.

5 stars - sad, raw and impacting. ( )
3 vote AlisonY | Jan 8, 2017 |
First of all, I never knew street thugs, drug addicts, and prostitution existed in Canada. I guess I am just a nieve American.

This story would be heart-breaking if it happened to a woman twice Baby's age, but it is beyond heart-breaking because at 13, Baby is a baby. The death of her mother in a car accident starts her father down a road of drugs and poverty, and Baby is along for the ride. She is so smart and has so much potential, but she is trapped under the intoxicated wings of her father (who is only about 15 years older than her). Baby leaves her father and becomes a street hood, hooking and doing all kinds of drugs. She makes a few friends here and there, but most of them prove to be abusive and mentally ill. Baby's one good friend Xavier is scared away by her pimp/boyfriend Alphonse. Luckily, the ending of this book is potentially happy, but knowing her and her father's history, the reader isn't left feeling so confident.

For a first novel, this is pretty good. The story was engaging and the characters seemed realistic. A few things irked me about this book. There were more typos in it than in most books I've read. There were times when I wanted to put the book down, and grab my red pen. Also, some of the transitions between sentences were clumsy, and I found that distracting as well. Overall, this was a very good book. I easily completed it in a week. I look forward to reading O'Neill's next work. ( )
  RojaHorchata | Jul 11, 2016 |
Baby, 12 when the book begins, is being raised by her heroin addicted young father, Jules. Her teenage mother died in a car wreck soon after Baby's birth. Jules and Baby live on the skids in Montreal, eventually landing in the lowest place possible, the red light district.

Baby is a tough, smart little girl. Still, by 13 she is experiencing drugs, sex and prostitution, her adult "boyfriend" her pimp. She loves Jules and longs for him to become the parent she needs. Jules loves Baby too and comes out of his fog long enough to understand she needs a savior and he has to find a way to become one.

This is a riveting book. The author apparently lived Baby's life and has chosen to write about her childhood in fiction rather than nonfiction. She does so brilliantly. ( )
  clue | Jul 6, 2016 |
Reading this book really opens your eyes because it shows a lifestyle that many of us have never experienced, and would never dream of experiencing. It follows the story of a twelve year old girl named Baby as she struggles to navigate life, stuck between the realms of childhood and adulthood. She has grown up in a broken home with a heroin addict for a father who takes better care of his addictions than he does her. A figure of authority is absent from her life because her mother is dead, and her father is still rather immature himself. Her life lacks consistency as she regularly moves between different apartments, foster homes, and eventually juvenile detention. Throughout her journey though, there is one constant: her search for love.

Along the way, she hits a few speed bumps, and has to make some difficult decisions. Some of them lead to things like alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. Eventually though, she gets to where she needs to be, and her journey is complete.

Although she makes plenty of bad choices, the reader doesn't resent her for them because of her spirit. She keeps a good attitude and her sense of humour is always present. Because of her upbringing, it is harder for her to make good decisions, and the reasoning and influences behind her decisions are what cause the reader to develop empathy for her.

At one point in the novel, Baby says “From the way that people have always talked about your heart being broken, it sort of seemed to be a one-time thing. Mine seemed to break all the time.” I found this line to be very heart-wrenching, and I instantly felt sorry for her. I could never imagine living a life where being let down is a reoccurring theme, yet at twelve, this is her reality.

Overall, I felt this was a valuable book to read. It exposes you to a different type of lifestyle and makes you more aware of the issues people face in their daily lives. It teaches you to be grateful for what you have, and to see others beyond their stereotypes. Most importantly, it shows us there is good in every situation, even if it takes a while to find it. ( )
  alienwierdos | Jun 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Lullabies for Little Criminals is a brilliant portrayal of troubled adolescence, but not a good choice for bedtime reading. Montreal writer Heather O'Neill's first novel takes her narrator, Baby, through ages 12 and 13, difficult years to remember for many of us, let alone to describe in such pristine detail.....O'Neill manages to portray the dual tragedy of drug abuse and child prostitution without moralizing or being exploitative. Her narrative voice is occasionally endowed with more mature perception, but remains consistently in character:
 
It's intriguing to ponder why Heather O'Neill, the author of this prize-winning debut novel, did not write a misery memoir. In an essay, she suggests that much of the material for her narrator, Baby (who is being raised by Jules, her heroin-addicted father, in Montreal's red-light district), came from her own experiences......O'Neill's novel builds to a riveting climax, where her narrator's life and sanity seem to hang in the balance. ....This is a deeply moving and troubling novel exploring the dark side of urban Canada, where, all too easily, children are still left to struggle against impossible odds.
 
Baby’s story, episodic in form, unfurls in the arbitrary, unscripted manner of “real life,” with none of the archetypal, cut-and-dried bad guys you might expect from an account so steeped in street-kid tragedy. Jules can be a neglectful creep, and Alphonse, Baby’s abusive boyfriend, has his genuinely sympathetic (and pathetic) moments as a character. ...This is a nuanced, endearing coming-of-age novel you won’t want to miss.
 
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Right before my twelfth birthday, my dad, Jules, and I moved into a two-room apartment in a building that we called the Ostrich Hotel.
Quotations
If you want to get a child to love you, then you should just go and hide in the closet for three or four hours. They get down on their knees and pray for you to return. That child will turn you into God. Lonely children probably wrote the Bible.
I don't know why I was upset about not being an adult. It was right around the corner. Becoming a child again is what is impossible. That's what you have legitimate reason to be upset over. Childhood is the most valuable thing that's taken away from you in life, if you think about it.
When you're young enough, you don't know that you live in a cheap lousy apartment. A cracked chair is nothing other than a chair. A dandelion growing out of a crack in the sidewalk outside your front door is a garden. You could believe that a song your parent was singing in the evening was the most tragic opera in the world. It never occurs to you when you are very young to need something other than what your parents have to offer you.
A child's mind is like a bird trapped in an attic, looking for any crack of light to fly out of. Children are given vivid imaginations as defense mechanisms, as they usually don't have much means for escape.
Some guardian angels did a terrible job. They were given work in the poor neighborhoods where none of the others wanted to go. Every delinquent kid had one of these miserable angels who made sure that they made the worst of every situation. These angels loved when people did the wrong thing or took risks. You can't have that many bad things happen to you without some sort of heavenly design.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060875070, Paperback)

A down-and-dirty debut novel, a harrowing recital of a young life, a funny, innocent, streetwise telling of life on the street--all of the above describe Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals. In an autobiographical essay included in the book, O'Neill, whose own childhood parallels rather closely the life of Baby, her book's heroine, says, "In Lullabies, I wanted to capture what I remembered of the drunken babbling of unfortunate twelve-year-olds: their illusions; their ludicrously bad choices, their lack of morality and utter disbelief in cause and effect." She accomplishes all of the above and more.

Baby is born to two 15-year-olds, and her mother dies a year later. Her father, Jules, is not a bad man, but he is a perpetual kid, without money, education, purpose, moral compass, or any idea of what being a parent is about or how ordinary people live. When the novel begins, Baby is almost 12, and her 12th year turns out to be a very big one indeed. She smokes pot, shoots heroin, loses her virginity, and lives in foster homes, a state detention home, and one seedy, squalid apartment after another. She comes under the spell of Alphonse, a neighborhood pimp, and is so hungry for male affection that she mistakes what he offers for love and care.

Baby and her equally neglected and abused friends long for adulthood, whatever that means. They look up to sophisticated druggies and efficient thieves. Baby says, "I don't know why I was upset about not being an adult. It was right around the corner. Becoming a child again is what is impossible. That's what you have a legitimate reason to be upset over." Baby is matter-of-fact about her predicament. She knows that other kids have lives very different from hers but says, "It never occurs to you when you are very young to need something other than what your parents have to offer to you." This poignant story is beautifully written, sprinkled throughout with humor, pathos, unbelievable privation, and, in the end, the hope of redemption. At least we know that Heather O'Neill grew up to be a writer of no mean accomplishment. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:09 -0400)

Chronicles the life of Baby, growing up in extreme poverty with her heroin-addicted father. At 13, she hooks up with a pimp who gets her turning tricks and doing heroin. Throughout, Baby maintains her childish innocence and doesn't see her life as bad or miserable.… (more)

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