Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: Lullabies for Little Criminals, by Heather O'Neill

Lullabies for Little Criminals
by Heather O'Neill
Harper Perennial
330 pages

Awards: Canada Reads 2007

Oh, Baby.

Baby, Baby, Baby.  For someone with a little girl's name, you've certainly seen some grown up things in your 12 years of life, haven't you?  You're being raised by your single dad, a heroin-addict who is all of 25 years old and who you refer to by his first name, Jules.  Your mother died when she was 16, a year after giving birth to you. Nobody talks about her or how or why she died; Jules just keeps stumbling through life, trying to do the best he can (which isn't saying much).

Yours has been one hell of a dozen years of life - and it hasn't even started. 

You're smart and street-wise, a child that has had to grow up too fast and see things that kids shouldn't have to see.  All you want is your mom ... or, at the very least, someone who loves you for all the right reasons.  You know things that most people take a lifetime to learn.

"Suddenly I realized that I wanted everything to be as it was when I was younger.  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 that what your parents have to offer you." (pg. 184)

You had such potential, Baby, and reading your story made me angry that every adult in your life couldn't see it.  Between your ne'er do well father Jules, the even lower-life scum Alphonse, the revolving door of social workers, your teachers, Xavier's parents, even the guy who ran the community center - none of them noticed what you truly are: a hurt little girl who just wants to be loved (in the right way), to be taken care of (in the right way), and to live the life that other teenagers do.  If they did notice it, nobody did anything. 

Maybe it was the times in which your story is set.  This was the very early 1980s, and while children have always suffered from abuse and neglect and we grown-ups always "knew" something might have been wrong, it was really not that long ago when this issue started seeping into our consciousness.  Sadly, in some ways, so many elements of your story could be true today - and are, for so many.
* * * *
For a debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals is well-written.  Heather O'Neill is a definite talent, someone to watch. The writing is gorgeous, with phrases in this novel "that will make you laugh out loud, and others that will stop your heart." (From a blurb on the back cover by David Rakoff.)  The characters are well-defined and I truly felt as if I knew these people (which I am very glad I didn't).

There were times, however, when I thought that the plot dragged a little bit.  I had a sense of what would happen to Baby from reading the blurb on the back cover, and as much as I didn't want to happen what happened, it took a little longer to get there than I would have liked.  (If that makes any sense at all, which it probably doesn't.)  The ending also felt rushed, especially with a new character thrown in at the end.  We've come to care so much about Baby through the 330 pages of this novel, that we just want to know ... well, that's probably more than enough said, lest I start giving things away.  I also wanted to know what happened with one of the other characters. 

(Maybe there's a sequel possibility ...?)

I found this book while browsing the stacks at the library and when I realized it was a Harper Perennial book, I grabbed it.  (Plus it has an interview with author Heather O'Neill at the end, which you will definitely want to read ... but not until you're finished with the book, 'kay?)  There is something about it that doesn't quite rise to the level of some of the other HP selections, but this is still a good read, albeit with some flaws.

Just like the people we love.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Book Gazing (this is a wonderfully written review that captures this book so perfectly!)
Lotus Reads
Reading Matters

My apologies if you're seeing this review twice.  It was posted right as The Great Blogger Apocalypse of 2011 happened, so ... yeah. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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