Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 09:39PM
LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS
by Heather O'Neill
(Harper Perennial, November 2006)
Review based on Advance Copy from HarperCollins
LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS is a disturbing, heartbreaking novel, written as the coming-of-age memoir of a 13-year-old girl living on the streets of Montreal with her father, a mentally unstable heroin junkie -- Hustle & Flow, without the hip-hop. LULLABIES is also reminiscent of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, but LULLABIES ends before the fairy tale rags-to-riches, happily-ever-after part, albeit on a hopeful note.
The main character, "Baby," seems to have a good head on her shoulders in the beginning, as she deals with the disappointments of life with her father, who is in and out of rehab, jail, and mental institutions, but she gradually succumbs to the hopelessness of poverty and criminal life as her father abandons her again and again. Every time he leaves, or is taken away, Baby is left on her own, with friends or in foster care. Eventually she spends time in juvenile detention, which is a turning point:
"It is a fact that things always get worse for children after a stint in juvenile detention. Being there does something to you morally..."
It gets worse. Much worse.
While LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS comes perilously close to being thoroughly depressing, the story is redeemed by a powerful voice, vivid characters and gritty realism. This is a stunning book from a first-time author, who leaves you wondering how much might be based on real life.