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Lullabies for Little Criminals (2006)

by Heather O'Neill

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,4877510,291 (3.94)1 / 309
Baby is twelve years old. Her mother died not long after she was born and she lives in a string of seedy flats in Montreal's red light district with her father Jules, who takes better care of his heroin addiction than he does of his daughter. Jules is an intermittent presence and a constant source of chaos in Baby's life - the turmoil he brings with him and the wreckage he leaves in his wake. Baby finds herself constantly re-adjusting to new situations, new foster homes, new places, new people, all the while longing for stability and a 'normal' life.But Baby has a gift - the ability to find the good in people, a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. She is bright, smart, funny and observant about life on the dirty streets of a city and wise enough to realise salvation rests in her own hands.… (more)
  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. 02
    A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (sushidog)
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English (73)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (75)
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
I liked it far more than the other book of hers I've read, The Lonely Hearts Hotel. That book, while I found it far more entertaining than I expected from the title, felt like it was trying a tad too hard to be all tragic and precocious and meaningful.

Lullabies, on the other hand, still manages to be very thoughtful and sappy, but believably so. It stays grounded in something that, at least for someone who has never been to late-20th-century Canada nor grown up in poverty, seems realistic enough.

I also really dug the short essay(s) in the back, about the author's childhood and the writing of the book. A lot more interesting than the average "about the author" tidbits one finds at the end of a novel. ( )
  Styok | Aug 25, 2022 |
Heartbreaking and funny and sometimes so painful to read that I’d have to set it aside for days because I just couldn’t bear what was surely going to happen next. I sobbed through the last chapter, but it’s ultimately a hopeful book after all. ( )
  Charon07 | Aug 13, 2022 |
I loved this book so much I couldn't put it down. I alternated between laughing and crying at all the sorrow and beauty through Baby's eyes. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Jul 6, 2020 |
Rereading Lullabies for Little Criminals, I remember being struck by O'Neill's playful, vibrant images juxtaposed with the setting of a childhood growing up in an impoverished area of Montreal. I was prepared for more of a sting, this time, with Baby's story and I was surprised at how the string didn't come, it was a long-drawn out poison sadness at understanding and simultaneously having no understanding of Baby's situation. For critique, I wanted more development of Jules, the father, who seemed predictably erratic.
  b.masonjudy | Jun 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (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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Baby is twelve years old. Her mother died not long after she was born and she lives in a string of seedy flats in Montreal's red light district with her father Jules, who takes better care of his heroin addiction than he does of his daughter. Jules is an intermittent presence and a constant source of chaos in Baby's life - the turmoil he brings with him and the wreckage he leaves in his wake. Baby finds herself constantly re-adjusting to new situations, new foster homes, new places, new people, all the while longing for stability and a 'normal' life.But Baby has a gift - the ability to find the good in people, a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. She is bright, smart, funny and observant about life on the dirty streets of a city and wise enough to realise salvation rests in her own hands.

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