Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

Imprint: Perennial

Genre: Fiction

On Sale: 10/17/2006;

Format: Trade PB;

Ages: 18 and up




One month after my daughter joined High school, I got a call from the vice- principal to say somone had set N's hair on fire (for no apparent reason). The VP wanted to know if I wanted to press charges (the kid was immediately suspended) but upon further investigation it turned out that the girl had been in and out of group homes and was a generally "disturbed" child.


Ofcourse, I didn't press charges but it did create in me a desire to learn more about kids that go to group homes...the conditions that put them there, the effects of living in one, the help they receive to deal with the terrible emotional conditions they live through and so on. So when Heather O'Neill's book, "Lullabies for Little Criminals" where the protoganist, Baby, is a 12-year old girl in and out of group homes, got so much positive feedback (it also won the "Canada Reads" award for 2007) I knew I wanted to read it.



"Lullabies for Little Criminals" is the coming-of-age story of Baby, a 12-year old Montreal girl who first lands in a provincial foster home when her young (her father was only 15 years old when she was born), heroin-addicted dad has to go into rehab. Baby, who is both tough and yet childlike goes through some hellish things on the rough streets of Montreal, but her resourcefulness, her belief in herself and her eternal optimism see her through some of her toughest challenges.

While the book has a wonderfully funny, poignant narrative voice and is filled with some truly wonderful and eccentric characters like Teddy, the child sociopath with an abusive mother; Jules, Baby's endearing kid-like dad; Alphonse, the drug-addicted pimp who latches onto her and Will, the eccentric liitle kid, I found the subject matter very depressing and hard to swallow. It makes you want to rail against negligent parents, inefficient government institutions and a society that makes it easy for adults to prey on young kids...it also made me want to hug my own daughters just a little tighter and a little more often.

I have to commend the author for being able to write the book from the perspective of a young lady so effectively and for tackling some very taboo subjects (definitely a brave thing to do with one's first novel), but perhaps the fact that the author experienced some of this on the streets of Montreal as she was growing up had something to do with the convincing voice? While it's a very impressive debut, the subject matter might not appeal to everyone. One last thing..don't you just love the cover which paints such a bright and innocent picture of childhood? But, oh, it is so deceptive..definitely one those books you should not judge by the cover.

43 comments:

Sai said...

Nice REview! My ex-boss's wife is a vice principal of a school here in the States and her job was to deal with delinquent children. Almost all of the cases they came from dysfunctional families.

Sugarlips said...

Lovely review Lotus and cover page is very bright and girly :)

The author pointed out a very serious issue...It is sad what these kids go through and become something..their parents would never want them to be and I agree what you said after reading all these books..newspaper and news channels all you wanna do is hug your daughters tightly and say thanks to God for growing up in normal and healthy families :)

Stay Beautiful...!

Anali said...

The cover is very deceptive! It looked all happiness and sunshine. I guess the saying not to judge a book by its cover is true. I'm not sure that I'd be up for this book though. That is very disturbing what happened to your daughter. She must have been so upset!

Sanjay said...

I am so sorry about what happened to "N", probably not easy to forget something as traumatic as that no?

Truly a wonderful review and thank you for capturing the essence of the book for us.
I would probably want to read this book, but first I must finish the 10 books before it.
The book brings to my mind how sadly familiar the stories and the lives within are in our real world.
It is heartbreaking to see kids go thru this.
I have read some good articles about lives of kids in a group home and even at a place like this, there may not be an escape from those that prey upon you.
I am sure the author's own experience played a role in her effective writing.
Lastly the cover probably was intended as a metaphor (I use this word too much..sorry) for two things..
1. Point to the fact that we as a society at times feel better off thinking about the lives of children as being sunny and trouble free and these issues are complex and tough and are not easily talked about and hence out of sight out of mind?
2. The author tries to tell us that the smooth, calm exterior you may see in society esp around children is deceptive and if we scratch it, there are things we as a society need to be aware of and do something about?
Not sure I make any sense here.. and that would not be a first.
That aside excellent review of what as you said is a tough, but a good book to read.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sai ~ Thanks and yes I can believe that having a dysfunctional home is probably one of the main reasons why kids go bad. What I wonder though is how many of these children are "saved" (for want of a better word) through counselling and other efforts. My heart truly weeps for them.

@Sugarlips ~ Yes, sometimes it is so hard to read books like these but, yes, if in the end, it teaches you to value your family just a little more, I would say it is well worth the effort. Thank you so much for stopping by!

Lotus Reads said...

@Anali ~ Yes she was upset and bewildered too because she had never encountered any hostility in her previous school. The elementary school that she had gone to before this one was small and all the kids were from the immediate surrounding neighborhoods (in other words, we knew all the parents and everyone looked out for the other). This school is much bigger and in a much more crowded area too...it's almost like a big city school with kids from every kind of background.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~ Yes, it was traumatic! Being a kid N got over it fairly quickly, I took much longer!

Yes, we think of group homes as being safe-er havens for disturbed or abused kids but that is not always the case I am hearing. Many of them go from the frying pan into the fire to use a lousy saying.

You have some great insights into the use of a book cover...thanks for sharing. Your observations made me look at the cover in a very different way...thanks!

Thanks also for your kind words, it's always fun reviewing books for all of you because of the great conversation that ensues.

Have a happy Monday!

hellomelissa said...

i have seen this book, and thought that i might cry my way through it. after your review, i KNOW i would! "white oleander" still sits like a lump in my chest with it's descriptions of foster care.

Asha said...

OMG!!! Lotus,hope N is not traumatized by that.That is terrible!My daughter goes to "not so wealthy" school here but no such trouble so far, thank God.Of course there are kids who come school high on drugs and smoke in the bathrooms.You never know!
Book sounds interesting.

Lotus Reads said...

@Melissa ~ This book will cause your Cancerian heart to break, I know! But it will also cause you to look compassionately on the squidgie (sp?) kids and other panhandlers one sees in big cities. I know I have been guilty of blaming them for their condition in the past, but now I will try to remember that atleast some of them are on the streets because they feel threatened or scared in these group homes and "home" is not something they can go back to because of abusive parents.

@Asha ~ Hi!!! These incidents are not all that common in schools here, especially in our city, but we very recently had a group home come up here and sometimes these kids act up. It's all very sad really.

Lotus Reads said...

@Melissa ~ Thanks for the heads up on "White Oleander", I am tempted to take a peek at it!

ML said...

My gosh! Poor N to have to go through something like that. And I bet it was horrid for you too!

Great review, Lotus! :-)

Beenzzz said...

Hi Lotus,
Lovely review as always. Yes, this subject matter can be very hard to deal with. Children generally turn out this way because of something going on in the home. It makes you wonder why we don't have to obtain a license in order to have children! Of course, that is a little far fetched.
As for N., that's horrible! I'm glad the girl who did it was suspended and could not get back on school grounds to do something worse.

jenclair said...

What is really sad is that the majority of these kids never get the help they need in time to make a significant difference in their lives and go on to perpetuate the problem with their own children. Too sad.

And what will eventually become of the girl who set N.'s hair on fire? A frightening prospect...

gautami tripathy said...

I am reading "the Solitaire Mystery" by Jostein Gaarder. After "Sophie's World" this my second book by him. Having a great time reading it.

Your reviews are so good that I always want to pick up those books.

iliana said...

That is terrible what happened to your daughter. I can't even imagine.

I've had this book for a while and I did pick it up at first because of the title and the cover. I thought it was going to be some light, fluffy read but I've heard it's not that at all. Great review Lotus. I will get to this book just not sure if I'm in the mood right now :)

diyadear said...

lotus,
i hope ur daughter is fine now..
n children.. ya reading their minds can be tought. for they themselves r only discovering wat they r capable of doing!!

Anil P said...

Like they say, everything can be traced to a reason. The question is, having known the reason, is there anything one can do about it most times?

booklogged said...

After reading your review and then looking at the picture again made me sad. It's so sad to think what could/should have been a happy time in a child's life was something so completely different. I will hug my grandkids tighter, too.

Radha said...

Wonderful review Lotus.
This book reminds me of another book I've read which is narrated by the author as a mentally challenged 12-yr old...i think it was called 'The curious incident of the dog in the night time'.

Shashikiran Mullur said...

There is a steady mellow feel to this post, and I enjoyed the tone of the text itself.

Lotus Reads said...

@ml ~ Welcome back! Really thrilled to see you!


@beenzzz ~ When I hear of homeless people or drug addicted mothers becoming pregnant and going all the way with the pregnancy, I have also wished that having kids could be a licensed thing...but ofcourse, not everyone thinks the way we do! I think it's so unfair to deliberately give a child such a bad start in life, but do you know, one of the things Baby says in the book is that the dream most street kids hold dearly to is having their own children.

All street kids wanted babies. It's a terrible kick. You should never start talking about it because once you started, you wanted the baby so bad you could almost faint. pg 303

Lotus Reads said...

@Jenclair ~ So true! And after they turn 18, even the state washes their hands off them. I have no idea what became of the girl that did this to *N*. All I know is that she moved from our city to another one about 200 miles away.

@Gautami ~ Those two books by Jostein Gaarder have been on my TBR list for the longest time. I hope you will be doing a post on them? Thank you for your kind words, you are a sweetie you know?

@Iliana ~ True, a seriously deceptive cover! Kinda reminds me of Tom Perotta's "Litte Children" and what secrets those cute suburban houses with their white picket fences and manicured lawns were hiding!

Parth said...

Very nice review. I actually missed the other post about the fraud. That was amazing.

Bookfool said...

Great review, Lotus. And, I admire you for looking into the life of the girl who set your child's hair on fire, rather than making a snap judgment. It may have been the only merciful act she's experienced; you just never know.

Framed said...

I agree with Bookfool. Most mothers would turn into mother bears and never try to learn more about the girl who did the deed. That's such a natural reaction. You showed so much compassion to want to learn more about what may be going on this child's life.

Lotus Reads said...

@Diya ~ You're dead right...at the best of times teens and preteens are hard to figure out and when they are messed up with drugs or personality disorders triggered by explosive home situations, it only gets worse!

@Anil ~ Good question...I suppose that all depends on what the "reason" is.

@booklogged ~ Yes, sadness was the overwhelming emotion I felt while reading this book. Children don't get to choose the families they are born to..it is so sad and unfair that their futures seem destined for disaster from birth.

@Radha ~ I read that book long ago,but I don't remember him being violated, or was he?


@Shashikiran ~ Thank you...I guess I was successful at conveying how the book made me feel.

Lotus Reads said...

@Parth ~ I'm confused...fraud? Which review are you referring to? Anyway, nice to see you here!

@Bookfool and Framed ~ Thank you!!! You are both so kind. I don't think anyone would have the heart to press charges against that girl...her life's too traumatic already. Poor child.

nessie said...

Have to pick this one up. love reading books about mtL!

Lisa Francisco aka AVIANA said...

I immediately thought of the movie "white oleander" if that was the appropriate title...it has michelle pfeifer and renee zellweger in it....it's more on the mother daughter relationship...the other needing the child really...

your post made me think of it....

shnaggy said...

a very nice issue that speaks for so many parents the world over. and a great lesson to all...i would love to have that book!!!definitely!!!

Angela in Europe said...

Sounds like an amazing book! I think it is really important for people to read books like this one to understand how difficult some lives' are.

Beloved Dreamer said...

Oh Lotus, what a horrible thing to happen to N. This world is so sad sometimes. A great review as always my friend. No PT for me today. No humor in my heart right now.

love-bd

Lotus Reads said...

@nessie ~ Hi! Have to warn you tho' most Montreal dwellers didn't like the way Montreal was portrayed in this book!

@Lisa/Aviana ~ I love your stage name! May your new name bring you the best of luck, always! Yes, this is the second time that "White Oleander" has come up wrt this post, I'll need to check it out or watch the movie, thanks! Will visit you soon!

@Shnaggy ~ Thank you for your positive comment, truly, there is a lesson to be learned here for all of us!

@Angela ~ So true! Some kids don't have a childhood at all...makes you wonder what kind of adults these kids grow into,no?

@Beloved ~ You poor lady...it's no fun being sick all the time. If I visit New York this summer, I will have to make sure to visit you!

Bookfool said...

Lotus,

I've just tagged you for the "Eight Things About Me" meme. I don't recall seeing it on your blog - ignore if you've done it and please don't feel obligated!

Lotus Reads said...

Nancy, I would love to, thanks for asking. Just please give me a couple of days so I can come up with things I haven't mentione here before! :)

Asha said...

How did I miss this post!!!Damn reader:))
Btw,your new post doesn't have comment section activated.
I think that game is "Go Fish"?! Just a guess:))

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Kristin Dodge said...

Good pick... I'm putting it on my list of "to-reads" right now.

Lindsea said...

hey! I just found your blog, and I love it. I am addicted to reading and it's great to find a blog that reviews some diverse and great books.

I noticed that your posts are not far apart, and I was wondering if you read one book at a time, and then review it, or if you have read them before, but just feel like reviewing them now, or if you read a whole bunch at a time and then...

Just wondering.

:) you are linked.

Lindsea

Lindsea said...

oh and I'm also a daugher of the tropics! and a culture vulture :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Kristin ~ It's a little depressing, but it's a good read. Thank you so much for your visit!


@Lindsea ~ You're a booklover, a daughter of the tropics and a culture vulture? I'm thrilled to meet you! Thanks so much for stopping by and for linking me. Will return the favor pronto!

WRT reading and reviewing books, I tend to read (on an average) a book a week. Most times I will quickly jot down my thoughts as soon as I finish reading the book, but many a time I might wait and then post a review later.

Rabbit Girl said...

Utter rubbish that "delinquents" come from "dysfunctional homes".....Rich kids terrorize in equal quantity -just look at George Bush.

Disappointed,
RG (Delinquent Librarian)