Sunday, July 10, 2011

BOOK: Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill, 330 pages

Orange July (shortlisted 2008); Canadian Book Challenge 5

Winner of Canada Reads 2007, I think I have been mixing this book up with The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. While Glass Castle is a memoir, Lullabies for Little Children is fiction, though I gather from reading about the author, that it is somewhat based on her experience growing up in Montreal.

Baby, the twelve year old narrator, is being raised by her father, Jules, a heroin addict with some mental health issues. Baby's mother has died, and Jules has raised her since he was fifteen, living in downtown Montreal. While they may not have much stability, there is love. Twelve year olds are at the best age, since they are still kids, but are getting mature enough to see the world around them, and beginning to understand their place in it. Baby is a strong character and proves the adage that if children have one person who loves them, they have that support they need to turn out okay. Eventually, as she ages, and with Jules disappearing at times, Baby begins facing adult situations. When the local pimp makes her his project, Baby reaches a cross roads, conflicted by the grownup world and her friendship with a 'normal' twelve year old. The contrast between Baby's time with her friend Xavier and her dates with Alphonse the pimp are stunning.

The first half of the book, with Baby's stream of consciousness, was really strange. Her view of Montreal and her life thus far was weird and I wondered how the author came up with each bizarre incident. They seemed so random, but then life is random for children, especially ones who don't have a lot of stability. Once Baby's life had been established, I found the second half of the book much stronger. Some people are survivors.

You could not make a child with bad memories into a kid with good memories. A really effective social worker would have to be a time traveler who could go back in time and undo the abuse most kids [in detention] had suffered. p 191