Lullabies for Little Criminals: A Novel

Lullabies for Little Criminals: A Novel

by Heather O'Neill


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062468475
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/05/2016
Edition description: Anniversary
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 349,929
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

HEATHER O’NEILL is a novelist, short-story writer and essayist. Her work, which includes Lullabies for Little Criminals, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night and Daydreams of Angels, has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize in two consecutive years, and has won CBC Canada Reads, the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and the Danuta Gleed Award. Born and raised in Montreal, O’Neill lives there today with her daughter.

Read an Excerpt

Lullabies for Little Criminals

A Novel

By Heather O'Neill

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006

Heather O'Neill

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060875070

Chapter One

Life With Jules

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. It was the first time I could remember taking a taxicab anywhere. It let us off in the alley behind the building, where all the walls had pretty graffiti painted on them. There was a cartoon cow with a sad look on its face and a girl with an oxygen mask holding a tiny baby in her arms.

Jules was wearing a fur hat and a long leather jacket. He was all in a hurry to get our stuff out of the taxi because it was so cold. "Stupid, lousy prick of a bastard, it's cold!" Jules screamed. That's the only type of thing anyone could say while outside in that weather. I think he was also in shock that the cabdriver had charged him ten bucks.

Jules took a suitcase filled with his clothes in one hand and a record player that closed into a white suitcase in the other. I was sure that he was going to drop it because he was wearing a pair of leather boots with flat soles that he had fallen madly in love with at the Army surplus store. They didn't have any treads on the bottom, so they gave his feet the funny illusion of moving in all directions at once. He slipped just outside the door of the hotel and had to land on his knees to break his fall.

I hadmy own little vinyl suitcase with green flowers and my name, Baby, written on it with black permanent marker, bulging with my clothes and my homework. I also had a plastic bag filled with dolls that I was dragging on the ground behind me.

There was a glass window over the front door on which were painted gold cursive letters that spelled out L'Hotel Austriche. This of course meant the Austrian Hotel, but Jules wasn't a particularly good reader. There were old-fashioned radiators all along the hallways with designs of roses on them. Jules loved the radiators. He said they were the only things that could keep an apartment warm. You had to stand on a floral carpet and wipe your boots before going up the stairs. Jules had already picked up the keys, so we just ignored the woman sleeping at the desk.

The apartment was small, with a living room and a tiny bedroom for me in the back. Like all the apartments in the hotels on that street, it came furnished. The wallpaper wasn't bad, although it had peeled off in spots near the ceiling. It was blue with tiny black stars on it here and there. The carpet had been worn down so much that you couldn't see what pattern it used to have and the light switch was practically black from so many hands turning it on and off.

It had the same smell of wet clothes and pot that our last apartment had. It smelled as if a florist shop had caught on fire and all the flowers were burning. I didn't mind any apartment so long as there weren't any tiny amber-colored cockroaches that disappeared into holes. Our last apartment was bigger but wouldn't stay warm. The heat from the electric baseboards just made Jules sweat and then get colder.

We had decided to leave abruptly in the end. Jules was nervous about a friend of his named Kent murdering him in his sleep. Kent had gone to Oshawa to work in a ski pole factory for the winter season and had left his two electric guitars, an amp, and a bag of clothes at our apartment in exchange for two cartons of cigarettes. They were reservation cigarettes and they had three feathers on each box. Jules smoked the cigarettes one after the other, as if he had an infinite supply. Even though he said they were like smoking shredded-up tires and chicken bones and they were going to kill him before he turned forty, he chain-smoked them nonetheless.

Jules had a little kid's sense of time and after a month, when all the cigarettes were gone, he didn't seem to believe that Kent was ever going to come back. He sold the equipment for fifty dollars. Two days later, Kent called and left a message saying that he would be coming back into town to pick up his stuff. Jules didn't have any problem-solving skills and he panicked.

"I can't get his shit back! I threw his clothes in the trash."

"What's he going to do?" I yelled, jumping up on the couch, as if I'd seen a mouse.

"Fuck, he'll run me over with his car. All I need is a couple of broken legs. I can barely walk down the street as it is. You know what they call someone who can't walk? An invalid!"

"Can't you buy back his guitars?" I screamed, hopping from foot to foot on the couch cushions.

"They're worth like a thousand dollars. I only got fifty dollars for them. I'll never be able to get them back. What did he expect me to do? Keep his instruments here for the rest of my life? I've already probably got arthritis from stubbing my toes against his shit."

That night I had a dream that a pair of running shoes were following me down the street and I woke up in a cold sweat. I had never met Kent, but Jules got me so worked up about him that I couldn't eat my lunch at school the next day. And that evening, when the doorbell finally did ring, my belly button felt as if it had come unthreaded and had fallen down through the floorboards.

Jules and I sat nervously next to each other on the couch, until we heard the footsteps walk away. Then he jumped up and . . .


Excerpted from Lullabies for Little Criminals
by Heather O'Neill
Copyright © 2006 by Heather O'Neill.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Lullabies for Little Criminals 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Montreal, Baby is turning twelve shortly. Her mother has been with for quite a while her twenty-seven years old father who is a junkie. They move around a lot from dive hotels to run down apartments to abodes worse than either always in the red light district where Jules seeks easy marks to con. Jules is a schemer, but never succeeds in making money because he usually explodes in a berserker rage when the slightest thing does not go in accordance to his plan, which is often as his heroin dependency rules his logic.-------------- Baby hides as much as possible at the community center or in the apartments of other children especially when her father is raging. Foster care, school and juvenile detention are respites from the violence though none are safe. She knows that charismatic but dangerous pimp Alphonse and kindhearted student Xavier seem to want her though she knows first hand that sex means pain. Soon Baby¿s world will crash further leaving her to make adult decisions that a kid should never have to face.------------ Though depressing to read about a child who never had any opportunity for youthful innocence, LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS is a powerful look at how the young adapt to their changing circumstances. Baby is a terrific protagonist, aptly named, as she endures in an ugly world made nastier by her father¿s needs fueled by heroin. The story line focuses on the little criminal, an offspring of a kid having a kid, doing what she must to endure. Heather O¿Neill writes a compelling character study that showcases a young survivor.------------- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book, the story of the beautiful pre-pubescent Baby and her heroin-addicted father was awesome. Heather O'Neil has a unique way of writing as she tells the adventures of Baby, everything from being in foster care families, to new friends 'and enemies', to discovering the power her beauty holds (grown men think she is sexy even as she walks around in frumpy mis-matched clothes, carrying a sack of dolls). I'm not a great reveiwer, all i can say is i loved this book, i finished it in 2 days, though i tried to stretch it out and enjoy it i just couldn't put it down. I hate when that happens, but love it too cuz that's when you know it's a good book.
KarenAJeff on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Fantastic book! Must own.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Baby lives with her father, Jules, a heroin addict. She doesn't remember her mother:He and my mother had both been fifteen when I was born. She had died a year later, so he'd been left to raise me all by himself. It didn't make him any more mature than any other twenty-six-year-old, though. He practically fell on the floor and died when a song he liked came on the radio. He was always telling people that he was color-blind because he thought it made him sound original. He also didn't look too much like a parent ... I thought of him as my best friend, as if we were almost the same age. (p. 4)Jules tries to make a living and support his habit by peddling merchandise at flea markets. To stay one step ahead of their landlord they seem to always be on the move. Baby knows how to fit her entire life into a small suitcase. Despite all these disadvantages, Baby is smart and does well in school. She seems determined to overcome the odds, but her world is turned upside down when Jules goes into rehab, and Baby into the foster care system. Over the next year, Baby moves in and out of care, is placed into a remedial program at school, and gets sucked into the unhealthy lifestyle on the streets of Montreal.Baby narrates her story with an authentic twelve-year-old's voice, and really got on my nerves for the first half of the book. But as her personal hardships intensified, so did my sympathy, and I found myself pulling for her. She was often left on her own for days at a time, and had to grow up far too quickly. I understood why she did what she did, but wished I could influence her choices (I'm avoiding spoilers here).Such a realistic and gritty story should have been "unputdownable." It thought it was an interesting and unique book, but had no problem setting it aside. It may have just been my mood this past week; I still recommend reading this Orange Prize nominee.
Nickelini on LibraryThing 1 days ago
2006, audiobookComments: I picked this audiobook without knowing anything at all about it, so it was all a surprise to me. Now, a few days later, I have no doubt that this tragicomic book will make my top 5 list for 2011. I listened to this audiobook, and then right out and bought a paper copy. I have ordered copies for a couple of people in my family who I think will also really like it. It¿s that good.The narrator of Lullabies for Little Criminals seems to be an adult retelling the events following her twelfth birthday. Her fifteen year old parents labeled her with the unfortunate name of Baby, which was meant to be ironic and she was told that it meant she was ¿cool and gorgeous.¿ Her mom died while she was a baby, and she had been raised by her childlike, dysfunctional heroin addicted father, Jules in a series of seedy hotels in Montreal. For the first part of the book, I found Baby¿s voice utterly charming and rather funny. However, as the story progressed and Baby¿s life spiralled out of control, I realized that this book was significantly more serious than I had originally expected. Baby¿s voice, however, remained constant throughout¿poetic, keenly observant, beautifully sad and vivid, both wry and winsome at the same time. Baby is smitten with low-lifes and bohemians, and this book is full of them¿guidance from healthy adults is sorely missing.O¿Neill is shrewdly accurate in capturing the dialogue of this culture. The reader of this audiobook, Miriam McDonald, captured the tone perfectly. The author gives us a view of the gritty side of Montreal seen through the eyes of a twelve-year old, full of her innocence and imagination. Beyond that, the writing was a delight to both hear and read. I just didn¿t want this book to end, which is unusual for me. Unfortunately for us, thus far Lullabies is O¿Neill¿s only novel.While I widely recommend this book, it isn¿t for every reader, despite winning the CBC Canada Reads competition in 2007. Readers who are highly sensitive to swearing will quickly be turned off. The bad language, however, is not gratuitous, but an accurate portrayal of the language of her world. Further, the book dives deep into the nasty side of life, including drug addictions and child prostitution. But unless you¿re extremely squeamish about these topics, I urge you to give this book a try.Lullabies for Little Criminals was nominated for the Orange Prize, Governor General's Award, IMPAC Dublin Literary award, and a whole slew of other prizes.
wesleyl on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Unlike any book I've read. Tough to read, painstakingly beautiful story about a young girl with a crack addict father on and off the streets of Montreal. I never wanted it to end.
aliaschase on LibraryThing 1 days ago
This is a beautiful and believable book, written from the perspective of a 12 year old living in poverty. My ability to enjoy the book was multiplied in being able to read more about the author's life and learn that she was not simply romanticizing or co-opting the experience of life in poverty, but that she had in fact grown up within the same world her main character did. The written perspectives of a 12 year old girl were extremely believable, and the writing flowed in that stream-of-consciousness, un-self-conscious way I remember thinking as a 12 year old. It's a difficult time for anyone of that age in this culture, though the difficulties are more perilous for girls living in poverty. This book deftly and beautifully makes that point.
lkernagh on LibraryThing 1 days ago
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.Shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2008, O'Neill's debut novel takes the reader into the world of 12-year old Baby. No, that is not a pseudonym. As Baby will tell you, that is the name on her birth certificate. The product of a teenage pregnancy, Baby lives with her young father Jules, who has been raising Baby on his own since her mother's death shortly after Baby was born. We learn right upfront that their relationship is more brother and sister than father and daughter in nature and that their life is somewhat transient - moving from apartment to apartment, resident hotel to resident hotel. Baby's world in Montreal is connected to the world of prostitutes, drug dealers, addicts and pimps, a neighborhood of strip joints and hot dog shops. No white picket fences, chintz curtains and frilly dresses with bows here. With trips into foster care and the custody of a neighbor when Jules is hospitalized and then does a stint in rehab, Baby's life is anything but stable and secure. O'Neill does an amazing job bringing to life the world of a troubled adolescent. Baby's life is such a hard one with an unpredictable and at time abusive father, being misunderstood by the system - who the heck places an honor's student into remedial schooling?!?! - and a victim of the vultures that lurk in society and prey on the young and the weak that was heartbreaking to read. O'Neill manages to balance this depressing story of abuse, abandonment, addiction and child prostitution with humor, optimism, naivety and wisdom and in the process produced a novel that is beautifully written and really speaks to the plight of children in need. As Baby says, "Childhood is the most valuable thing that's taken away from you in life, if you think about it."
twoods9 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
This novel was engrossing. O'Neill is a master of conveying the world through the eyes of children.
mielniczuk on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Couldn't pass on a story about a 12 yr. old growing up too quickly on the streets of Montreal. O'Neill lets the reader into the imagination and rationalizations behind the lamentable choices and actions of a street kid.
ParadigmTree on LibraryThing 1 days ago
The beautiful prose and vivid metaphors are the highlights of this tale of innocence lost. The heartbreaking story is balanced by the main character's resilience and ability to find small glimmers of happiness even in the darkest circumstances.
Laurenbdavis on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Worth reading? Yes. The voice is beautifully controlled and Baby, the main character, heartbreaking and quite impossible to forget. Be prepared, however, for a grim, squalid read, albeit with moments of real humor. Child prostitution, drugs and despair in equal measure. I don't shock easily, and have been accused of writing some 'too-dark' tales myself, but this one's a corker.
Cecilturtle on LibraryThing 1 days ago
This novel rests on contradictions: the sleeziness of adults and innocence of children; the creepiness of a dank apartment and magic of snow blanketing city streets; spiralling despair and hopeful redemption. As we follow Baby through the streets, we feel her fear, excitement and courage, but mostly that deep and precious love between her and her father. A very moving and disturbing account of a young girl and her struggle between child and adulthood.
twigsnbongo on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I must have read too many good reviews on this book because I was a little dissapointed. It was difficult to read about Baby's ordeals because I have daughters of my own. I sympathized with her. I guess with a somewhat depressing book I expected something more tragic to happen in the end. Heather O'Neill's writing did keep me reading. Her words transformed me into a dirty street kid.
Scrabblenut on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I found this book to be a big disappointment, even though it was the Canada Reads winner. The 12-year-old voice of Baby does not ring true. This is a sad and depressing tale of child neglect, drug abuse and prostitution, with foul language, unintelligent people, theft and senseless vandalism, etc. For me, the story had no redeeming qualities and no sense of morality.
sabinemanitta on LibraryThing 1 days ago
At first I was intrigued, then I quickly tired of theme & didn't want to read anymore BUT I could not put it down. It was a case of 'just one more page' and then found myself devouring it. What an unforgettable story. Towards the end I realised that this must have been written from a partly personal perspective.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
What an incredible book! It is not an easy read, but I highly recommend it.O'Neill takes us to the deep, dark underbelly of the Montreal Canada streets where 12 year old "baby" scrapes by on a day to day existence with her heroin addicted, crazy, neglectful and unstable father.While the subject matter is sad, overall I came away undisturbed, but simply in awe and admiration for the street wise, spunky character who learned way too much way too fast.The saddest part was the realization that no matter how much abuse occurred, baby still craved the love and affection of her father.a quote from page 59 of the book:"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 into God. Lonely children probably wrote the Bible."I give the book a five star rating!
Cauterize on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Great book about Baby, a 12 year old teenager who grows up in the low-income areas of Montreal, raised by a heroin-addicted, neglectful father. Written in first-person and the effectiveness of the book is emphasizing how a kid growing up in such a volatile environment can think that this life is normal and even worth defending against outsiders. All Baby wants is her father to love her more than the drugs, she's smart enough to realize that probably isn't going to happen, but young enough to still have the hope that it will. The book is engrossing, all the way through. The author is adept in drawing in the reader by showing the hidden charms of being a street kid, and the charismatic, unorthodox people and the friendships that form. When things start spiraling-down and out of control for Baby, you still stick with her and the endure the dark places she must go because the reader is already so involved in Baby's world and mindset. What I didn't like with the book is that I felt the ending was a bit abrupt, and a certain character's motivation is left unclear (in my opinion) when it should have been, at least, broadly sketched. Also, there was a significant "get to know the author" section at the back, where you learn how the author describes in her own words how she grow up as a semi-street kid in Montreal. For me, I dislike knowing how much an author's messed-up life mirrors her character's; I hate wondering whether some of the fictional sordid scenes were true-to-life for the author. I find this lessens the impact of what I just read. However, I understand how other readers might feel the opposite - that knowing the author has that basis of understanding, they feel that the story could be true and therefore it's more interesting.But I'd highly recommend it; it was well-written and funnier than I expected.
wiremonkey on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did- it was one of those books that made you feel that you died a little inside after it was done. It is raw and chafing and lyrical.
WittyreaderLI on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This book was really really good. It was the kind of book that I wanted to read as much as possible. Baby is a 12/13 year old who has a father who is a heroin addict and is only 15 years her senior. She spends a lot of time in the streets and eventually gets involved with the wrong kind of people. This book was powerful especially since it centered around an innocent child who is exposed to the evils of the world. This book reminded me of the Glass Castle, but a lot more harsh. A great read!
allison.sivak on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This novel tracks the life of twelve-year-old Baby, who lives with her addict father in a series of Montreal rooms. While her father, Jules, struggles with drug addiction, Baby raises herself, moving from home to foster care, to juvenile detention. Baby is changing from a child to a young adult--although the novel only spans about a year, the change is more in the worsening conditions of her life and her own loss of innocence. This story is intense, and the plot is full of difficult and revealing moments for the characters. However, the plot was what I found most compelling in the novel, as opposed to the writing, which could have used a strong editorial hand. Writing through a child's point of view is difficult, to be sure; but Baby's voice wanders, from naive to reflective to poetic, and it doesn't read consistently. The poetics of O'Neill's narrative are nicely written, but distracting and seemingly out of character. And while increasingly upsetting things happen to Baby, it doesn't build to a more powerful whole; instead, the novel reads like a series of street vignettes with "just in time" context written around them. Similar in scope to Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, which is a novel amazing in its accomplishments, not the least of which was Johnson's ability to create a believably naive protagonist in the face of his squalid life.
msjoanna on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I enjoyed this book. I have a soft spot for this type of funny and irreverant coming of age story and I enjoyed the narrative voice of Baby, an eleven to thirteen year old street child. Not recommended for the easily offended as the book's protagonist becomes a street prostitute, drug user, and general delinquent through much of the story. Nonetheless, the book is neither depressing nor overly moralizing -- it manages to strike an emotional tone that feels authentic.
LynnB on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This is an interesting portrayal of life on the streets of Montreal. The narrator is 12-year-old Baby, whose mother is deceased and whose father is a drug addict. Baby's voice rings with realism and the author maintains Baby's perspective in a strong and convincing manner throughout the novel. This is due, I'm sure, to her own life which, while not as dramatic as Baby's, contains several similar experiences.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I really wanted to like this book, but couldn't. I just found it too sad, despite the funny and light style it was written in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of those books that depresses you more and more with each page but keeps you interested. Baby is a wonderful character and the writer makes your heart break for her. A tad too much heart break for one child in one book.