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Baby and Jules. Jules and Baby. They're a father and his 12-year-old daughter whose unconventional lifestyle is rarely more than two steps ahead of Social Services. Left motherless at birth, Baby takes better care of Jules than he does of her, preoccupied as he is with an escalating drug habit. But getting by is all Baby has ever known, moving from apartment to apartment, living in foster homes while Jules does time in rehab, nicking candy bars from the grocery and spinning tales to impress her classmates. Tempted too soon by the privileges and freedom of an adult world, Baby trades in her childish ways, and learns to rely on her genius for survival and her growing beauty. But when she captures the attention of the charismatic Alphonse, his sweet words and string of sad, lost little girls introduce Baby to a life that Jules is powerless to save her from and that test her mettle to survive.
A harrowing tale without a trace of melodrama or self-pity, Lullabies for Little Criminals is filled with the tenderness and pain of adolescence. Baby may remind some readers of Kaye Gibbons's 11-year-old Ellen Foster, and her young voice -- heartbreaking, raw, and direct -- is uniquely resonant and a triumph. O'Neill, a contributor to NPR's This American Life, firmly establishes herself on the page with this debut novel. (Holiday 2006 Selection)