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.