lullabies for little criminals
After reading the copy on the back of this book I opened it up with some trepidation. It was billed as the story of a 13 year old prostitute named Baby whose father is a heroin addict; she cherishes "crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap". I only read it on the strength of a recommendation of a very good friend.
When I finished the novel, after 8 hours of sustained reading, I put it down and said, out loud:
So I advise you to set aside any preconceptions you might have made reading that summary.
At the end of the book, in a short postscript, Heather O'Neill writes a good line about wanting to capture some of the fantastic nature of being a street-kid. She talks a tiny bit about her own life and rather a lot about things that inspire her and books she suggests people should read.
For my part I found it hard to accept this book was not biographical. It breathes life through every pore, with imperfect people and situations it's hard to believe were invented. But I sort of have to.
Lullabies reminds me of stories I used to tell myself as a kid in a strange way, origin stories for the skatepark in a parking lot and the woods near our home. The world of Baby is far removed from my own upbringing in some of this country's seedier suburbs.
In the novel Baby's a kind of bridge between a very adult world and one of children. Much of what makes the book so lifelike is that most of her experiences will seem familiar to anyone by the time they reach their early twenties - from first brushes with drugs and sex, through first loves and struggling to make a place for yourself in an adult world. It is easy to forget that Baby is thirteen in the novel.
I really liked the way O'Neill dealt with her two big taboo topics too, namely child prostitution and heroin addiction. Basically she dealt with it the same way she writes about everything else in the novel - straightforwardly with no excuses or pretensions. Her characters are not victims in any real sense. They are very clearly actors in their lives and while they don't always choose their circumstances, they do think about them and struggle to do what they think is best.
I have so much tenderness towards this book and its characters that I don't really think I can do it justice. It's a good read, and I would highly recommend it.
Fair warning though, that there are fairly graphic scenes of sexual and physical abuse peppered throughout the book - it could be a triggering read for survivors.