Lullabies for Little Criminals (2006, 330 pages)
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill was published in 2006 and given a huge bouquet of awards. This one is a Canada Reads winner, the first of many that we’ll see on this list. I actually read this book a couple years ago but felt it was recent enough not to reread for this challenge (Also, I don’t really reread books – Róisín).
The synopsis: “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.”
Whoa guys, whoa. Let’s get into it!
Kathleen: Well, this was a very uninspiring second book. And we got off to such a strong start with all that bear-fucking! The book is about some tragic people dealing with tragic things. It deals with poverty, drugs, sex, and prostitution in Montreal. And somehow, it’s really, really boring. Not enough to make me hate it, but my feelings towards it are pretty blah. The line “It never occurs to you when you are very young to need something other than what your parents have to offer you” has definitely stuck with me, though.
Róisín: I have to agree, didn’t feel strongly either way about this book. I read this last year, around the same time that I read All My Puny Sorrows which definitely overshadowed it for me (stay tuned!). I think I maybe liked it a bit better than you did though, Katy. As you know, I absolutely hate misery porn but I never felt like this book dipped too far into that (you may disagree with me). I wouldn’t exactly call it optimistic, but as a reader I felt that the open ending was a happier one than could have realistically concluded this book. Maybe like you said, time has tempered it for me and I’m remembering more fondly than when I first read it, but I’m feeling pretty generous about this one.
Kathleen: I mean, it gets preeeetty dang miserable, but you’re right, the end was definitely happier than you would expect, and I liked that.
Róisín: I feel like I wanted to read a whole book’s worth of the time she spends in a foster home in small town Quebec. That part seemed most interesting to me and I think the rest in Montreal was a bit too much of a 1970s TV movie tone for me. Its funny that you thought the cover promised something more fun! I remember seeing a comment online about the cover art to the effect of “Ugh don’t give your book cute covers if you want people to read them” which leaves me with a lot of questions.
Kathleen: I feel the same way about the foster home! All the characters that appeared there were so three-dimensional, and it was much more interesting reading.
Should Lullabies for Little Criminals be on the 30 before 30?
Kathleen: Nah. Remember when I was like “oooh, look at the cover, this book is going to be soooooo good, and definitely very fast-paced and exciting!” I am a fool.
Róisín: Yes. I think this one ticks all the boxes: a book about youth, written by a young author, that reads as distinctly Canadian. I can imagine this book being a huge deal to me in high school if I read it then.
NEXT TUESDAY’S BOOK: Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan (after this we will be posting exclusively on Thursdays, because we are classy, exclusive ladies)
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