Lullabies For Little Criminals: A Novel

Paperback | October 17, 2006

byHeather O'Neill

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Heather O’Neill’s critically acclaimed debut novel, with a new introduction from the author to celebrate its ten-year anniversary

Baby, all of thirteen years old, is lost in the gangly, coltish moment between childhood and the strange pulls and temptations of the adult world. Her mother is dead; her father, Jules, is scarcely more than a child himself and is always on the lookout for his next score. Baby knows that “chocolate milk” is Jules’ slang for heroin and sees a lot more of that in her house than the real thing. But she takes vivid delight in the scrappy bits of happiness and beauty that find their way to her, and moves through the threat of the streets as if she’s been choreographed in a dance.

Soon, though, a hazard emerges that is bigger than even her hard-won survival skills can handle. Alphonse, the local pimp, has his eye on her for his new girl—and what the johns don’t take he covets for himself. If Baby cannot learn to become her own salvation, his dark world threatens to claim her, body and soul.

Channeling the artlessly affecting voice of her thirteen-year-old heroine with extraordinary accuracy and power, Heather O’Neill’s debut novel blew readers away when it was first published ten years ago. Now it’s sure to capture its next decade of readers as Baby picks her pathway along the edge of the abyss to arrive at a place of redemption, and of love.

Featuring a new introduction from the author

CBC Canada reads winner, Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction winner, Orange Prize for Fiction finalist, Governor General’s Literary Award finalist, International Impac Dublin Literary Award finalist

Praise for Lullabies for Little Criminals

“A vivid portrait of life on skid row.”—People

“A nuanced, endearing coming-of-age novel you won’t want to miss.”—Quill And Quire

“Vivid and poignant. . . . A deeply moving and troubling novel.”—The Independent (London)

“O’Neill is a tragicomedienne par excellence. . . . You will not want to miss this tender depiction of some very mean streets.”—Montreal Review of Books

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From the Publisher

Heather O’Neill’s critically acclaimed debut novel, with a new introduction from the author to celebrate its ten-year anniversaryBaby, all of thirteen years old, is lost in the gangly, coltish moment between childhood and the strange pulls and temptations of the adult world. Her mother is dead; her father, Jules, is scarcely more than ...

HEATHER O’ NEILL’s first novel,Lullabies for Little Criminals, earned accolades around the world, including being named winner of Canada Reads 2007 and the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and being a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Orange Prize. She is a regular contributor to CBC Books, CBC Radio, Natio...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 0.79 inPublished:October 17, 2006Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0060875070

ISBN - 13:9780060875077

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Chapter ExcerptChapter OneLife With JulesRight before my twelfth birthday, my dad, Jules, and I moved into a two-room apartment in a building that we called the Ostrich Hotel. It was the first time I could remember taking a taxicab anywhere. It let us off in the alley behind the building, where all the walls had pretty graffiti painted on them. There was a cartoon cow with a sad look on its face and a girl with an oxygen mask holding a tiny baby in her arms.Jules was wearing a fur hat and a long leather jacket. He was all in a hurry to get our stuff out of the taxi because it was so cold. "Stupid, lousy prick of a bastard, it's cold!" Jules screamed. That's the only type of thing anyone could say while outside in that weather. I think he was also in shock that the cabdriver had charged him ten bucks.Jules took a suitcase filled with his clothes in one hand and a record player that closed into a white suitcase in the other. I was sure that he was going to drop it because he was wearing a pair of leather boots with flat soles that he had fallen madly in love with at the Army surplus store. They didn't have any treads on the bottom, so they gave his feet the funny illusion of moving in all directions at once. He slipped just outside the door of the hotel and had to land on his knees to break his fall.I had my own little vinyl suitcase with green flowers and my name, Baby, written on it with black permanent marker, bulging with my clothes and my homework. I also had a plastic bag filled with dolls that I was dragging on the ground behind me.There was a glass window over the front door on which were painted gold cursive letters that spelled out L'Hotel Austriche. This of course meant the Austrian Hotel, but Jules wasn't a particularly good reader. There were old-fashioned radiators all along the hallways with designs of roses on them. Jules loved the radiators. He said they were the only things that could keep an apartment warm. You had to stand on a floral carpet and wipe your boots before going up the stairs. Jules had already picked up the keys, so we just ignored the woman sleeping at the desk.The apartment was small, with a living room and a tiny bedroom for me in the back. Like all the apartments in the hotels on that street, it came furnished. The wallpaper wasn't bad, although it had peeled off in spots near the ceiling. It was blue with tiny black stars on it here and there. The carpet had been worn down so much that you couldn't see what pattern it used to have and the light switch was practically black from so many hands turning it on and off.It had the same smell of wet clothes and pot that our last apartment had. It smelled as if a florist shop had caught on fire and all the flowers were burning. I didn't mind any apartment so long as there weren't any tiny amber-colored cockroaches that disappeared into holes. Our last apartment was bigger but wouldn't stay warm. The heat from the electric baseboards just made Jules sweat and then get colder.We had decided to leave abruptly in the end. Jules was nervous about a friend of his named Kent murdering him in his sleep. Kent had gone to Oshawa to work in a ski pole factory for the winter season and had left his two electric guitars, an amp, and a bag of clothes at our apartment in exchange for two cartons of cigarettes. They were reservation cigarettes and they had three feathers on each box. Jules smoked the cigarettes one after the other, as if he had an infinite supply. Even though he said they were like smoking shredded-up tires and chicken bones and they were going to kill him before he turned forty, he chain-smoked them nonetheless.Jules had a little kid's sense of time and after a month, when all the cigarettes were gone, he didn't seem to believe that Kent was ever going to come back. He sold the equipment for fifty dollars. Two days later, Kent called and left a message saying that he would be coming back into town to pick up his stuff. Jules didn't have any problem-solving skills and he panicked."I can't get his shit back! I threw his clothes in the trash.""What's he going to do?" I yelled, jumping up on the couch, as if I'd seen a mouse."Fuck, he'll run me over with his car. All I need is a couple of broken legs. I can barely walk down the street as it is. You know what they call someone who can't walk? An invalid!""Can't you buy back his guitars?" I screamed, hopping from foot to foot on the couch cushions."They're worth like a thousand dollars. I only got fifty dollars for them. I'll never be able to get them back. What did he expect me to do? Keep his instruments here for the rest of my life? I've already probably got arthritis from stubbing my toes against his shit."That night I had a dream that a pair of running shoes were following me down the street and I woke up in a cold sweat. I had never met Kent, but Jules got me so worked up about him that I couldn't eat my lunch at school the next day. And that evening, when the doorbell finally did ring, my belly button felt as if it had come unthreaded and had fallen down through the floorboards.Jules and I sat nervously next to each other on the couch, until we heard the footsteps walk away. Then he jumped up and . . .The foregoing is excerpted from Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

Editorial Reviews

“A disturbing, heartbreaking novel… redeemed by a powerful voice, vivid characters and gritty realism. This is a stunning book from a first-time author.”