Lullabies for Little Criminals is unique. For days I’ve been trying to decide how to approach this review. If I outlined the plot, you would think it’s depressing. It isn’t. It’s a charming, hopeful tale about a motherless thirteen-year-old with an immature, heroin-addicted dad. It’s also about childhood’s irrepressible happiness. I’ve never read a story about street kids this authentic, this unromantic.
Heather O’Neill’s brilliant, resilient little protagonist, Baby, is an oasis of hope and normality in Montreal’s underbelly, a dangerous underworld that exists, unseen and unnoticed, right beside the safe, child-centred world of the middle-class. This is nothing like “the street” as depicted by Hollywood. It’s too familiar and therefore much worse.
Baby tells her story with such a fresh voice that you are compelled to read on, though you dread each twist and turn. Hers is the inevitable tragedy when a young tween can only get love and shelter from the local pimp. Tawdry stuff, you think. I know how this will end, you think. You don’t.
I’ll be looking for more by Heather O’Neill. She has already won the 2007 CBC Radio Canada Reads award for this book. I’d nominate her for a Governor General’s Award as well.