Review: Lullabies For Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill
Published by: Harper Collins, Harper Perennial on October 17, 2006
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
View on: Goodreads
Grab it: Buy on Amazon
About the Book:
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.
Lullabies for Little Criminals, set in the crime-alerted city of Montreal, is Heather O’Neill’s most extraordinary piece of writing so far. I happened to glance through the first few pages of this book when I was hunting for books to help me endure my Summer holidays, at my local bookstore, and luckily I was only able to skim through the beginning of the book before deciding to buy it. Because had I seen what was in store for me at the climax, I wouldn’t have hesitated before slamming that book back in the bookshelf, where I thought it belonged. Prostitution, drug addictions and ‘pimp’ stalkers are not things I expected a 12 year old to deal with, even in one of the most crime-infested areas of the world. But as the novel progressed, so did my interest, and I found myself rushing through the last few pages of the book, gripping the pages while anticipating the ending.
The story is based around the life of Baby, a vulnerable yet smart young girl, while she battles between the fine lines that define childhood and adulthood. She struggles with reality, and forces herself to oblivion to avoid the ugly facts that confront her when her father her father indulges his Heroin addiction and abandons all presences of looking after her. With a ‘pimp’ who strikes up a special interest to Baby and a sometimes-abusive father, Baby’s life is far from perfect, but she manages to find beauty in certain things in life that we ourselves take for granted, which undoubtedly keeps her afloat to the chaos that engulfs her through her ‘childhood’.
This was, without a doubt, one of the most enthralling books I have ever read. No, not because of an extraordinary use of vocabulary or insightful observations, but because it was an honest-to-god, factual novel that actually allowed the reader to step into 12 year old Baby’s world and experience the dark, dangerous city of Montreal as it is. Although this book may be hard to digest, it certainly provides an inside look into the world of drug-lords and addicts. Yes, O’Neill lacks personal opinion and feeling in certain incidents in the novel, such as ransacking a former friend’s house or being subjected to abuse, but that proves to be an asset rather than a vulnerability. The casual way the author is able to describe incidents with an oblivious feel to narration, makes the facts she puts down so much more realistic. Scrape away the few emotions that sugarcoat Baby’s life and you have some horrendous facts in front of you, and the fact that the 12 year old is unable to process then means that it is your job to do so.
Add the fact that the events of this novel are narrated without a trace of self-pity or wallowing, and the novel is the perfect tool for instant gratitude. Had Baby resided to her room each time she was treated unfairly, bawling her eyes out while marveling at her misfortune, I would have been able to relate to the character so much more. But her lack of self-awareness only led to me becoming so much more aware of her, and I found myself taking her place and pitying her. Baby was used throughout the novel, and her naivety makes it so much more agitating to get through the book. At some point in the novel I felt like shouting in her ear ‘He’s taking advantage of you, DO something!’. She only adds to my angst when she wordlessly accepts the criticism and mistreatment her father and Alphonse (her ‘pimp’) had to offer without any protests, but perhaps O’Neill meant for us to feel this way as to truly let us see the real picture she had painted for us.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who was feeling particular ungrateful or spiteful at any time of the day, because this shocking novel will snap you right out of any fits, and will have you counting your lucky stars in no time. A word of caution, this book is not for the fainthearted, so if you’re looking for one of those happy-go-lucky novels before bedtime, perhaps you should try another novel. Although this novel is difficult to get through, and is quite hard to get into towards the beginning, you will certainly thank yourself when you actually finish reading and have experienced the book for yourself.
5 out of 5 Controllers
Note: This review can also be found on Sarika’s Goodreads Page