Heather O'Neill is a contributor to this American Life and her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Her childhood was divided between Viriginia and her mother, who wanted nothing to do with her children, and Montreal and her alcoholic father. She now lives in Montreal. Lullabies for Little Criminals is her first novel.
In her debut novel, This American Life contributor O'Neill offers a narrator, Baby, coming of age in Montreal just before her 12th birthday. Her mother is long dead. Her father, Jules, is a junkie who shuttles her from crumbling hotels to rotting apartments, his short-term work or moneymaking schemes always undermined by his rage and paranoia. Baby tries to screen out the bad parts by hanging out at the community center and in other kids' apartments, by focusing on school when she can and by taking mushrooms and the like. (She finds sex mostly painful.) Stints in foster care, family services and juvenile detention ("nostalgia could kill you there") usually end in Jules's return and his increasingly erratic behavior. Baby's intelligence and self-awareness can't protect her from parental and kid-on-kid violence, or from the seductive power of being desired by Alphonse, a charismatic predator, on the one hand, and by Xavier, an idealistic classmate, on the other. When her lives collide, Baby faces choices she is not equipped to make. O'Neill's vivid prose owes a debt to Donna Tartt's The Little Friend; the plot has a staccato feel that's appropriate but that doesn't coalesce. Baby's precocious introspection, however, feels pitch perfect, and the book's final pages are tear-jerkingly effective. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
O'Neill's vivid prose owes a debt to Donna Tartt's The Little Friend... Baby's precocious introspection feels pitch perfect... Tear-jerkingly effective - Publishers' WeeklyA remarkable novel that could turn out to be huge... the very rich descriptions of a tumultuous young life and emotional reaction to each new situation add up to a cracking good read - Publishing New...dreamy prose...Baby's unique voice and the glimmer of hope provided by her intelligence and imaginative spirit live on in the mind long after you have closed the book - Waterstones Books QuarterlyFrom feisty little Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird to Sissy Spacek's blank-eyed Holly in the film Badlands, Heather O'Neill draws on the annals of knowing child narrators to shape Baby's shabby, scrappy scrabble from broken home to detention centre to pimp's lap and back again. Scabrous humour and brutal insight fairly jolt each episode into life - The Observer