Synopses & Reviews
LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS is the heartbreaking and wholly original debut novel by This American Life contributor Heather O'Neill, about a young girl fighting to preserve her bruised innocence on the feral streets of a big city.
Baby, all of thirteen years old, is lost in the gangly, coltish moment between childhood and the strange pulls and temptations of the adult world. Her mother is dead; her father, Jules, is scarcely more than a child himself, and always on the lookout for his next score. Baby knows that 'chocolate milk' is Jules' slang for heroin, and sees a lot more of that in her house than the real article. But she takes vivid delight in the scrappy bits of happiness and beauty that find their way to her, and moves through the threat of the streets as if she's been choreographed in a dance.
Soon, though, a hazard emerges that is bigger than even her hard–won survival skills can handle. Alphonse, the local pimp, has his eye on her for his new girl; and he wants her body and soul –– what the johns don't take he covets for himself. At the same time, a tender and naively passionate friendship unfolds with a boy from her class at school, who has no notion of the dark claims on her –– which even her father, lost on the nod, cannot totally ignore. Jules consigns her to a stint in juvie hall, and for the moment this perceived betrayal preserves Baby from terrible harm –– but after that, her salvation has to be her own invention.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"O'Neill somehow infuses her troubling story with a kind of heartbreaking innocence... O'Neill is a wonderful stylist... and the voice she has created for Baby is original and altogether captivating." Michael Cart, Booklist
Living with her heroin addict father, Jules, thirteen-year-old Baby catches the eye of the charismatic Alphonse, who possesses a string of girls who do his bidding, and is sent to reform school, but when she ultimately gains her freedom, she begins to discover that only she possesses the power to save herself. A first novel. Original. 30,000 first printing.
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.
About the Author
HEATHER O NEILLs first novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, earned accolades around the world, including being named winner of Canada Reads 2007 and the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and being a finalist for the Governor Generals Award for Fiction and the Orange Prize. She is a regular contributor to CBC Books, CBC Radio, National Public Radio, The New York Times Magazine, The Gazette (Montreal) and The Walrus. She was born in Montreal, where she currently lives.