Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

If this book was just being published now instead of five years ago, I wonder if it would have been promoted as YA instead of adult. It's a coming-of-age story with mature themes in the voice of an appealing young narrator named Baby. Baby's parents were both just 15 years old when she was born and her mother died soon afterwards. Her father is a drug addict and mentally unstable, so Baby spends a lot of time on the streets in the red light district of Montreal. As if her life weren't already difficult enough, Baby gets a crush on a jealous pimp who happens to like his girls young.

Miriam McDonald narrates the audiobook (Harper Audio; 9 hours) with an appropriately matter-of-fact delivery, in the way Baby herself avoids being too deeply affected by the tragedy of her situation. Audiobooks with long tracks can be really annoying because when I stop partway through a track, I have to re-listen from the beginning of the track when I get back to the book. (My player doesn't have fast-forwarding within tracks.) For some reason, Canadian titles are especially bad in this regard and Lullabies for Little Criminals is a case in point, with tracks about 20-25 minutes long. I started listening to the final CD and had to stop at the 25 minute point, even though the track wasn't yet over. Thinking that it must be near the end, I switched to track 2 when I was ready to listen again, only to hear "thank you for listening etc." So I started again from the beginning. After about 50 minutes, I managed to drop my player and it fell apart. Luckily, it still worked once I had reassembled it. Unfortunately, I had to start all over again from the beginning of the CD in order to hear how the story ended. I gave up and got a copy of the book instead so that I could read the final 15 pages.

The paper edition had a note from the author at the end, talking about Baby: "The main character is twelve for a good chunk of the book. Twelve is a beautiful and striking age. It's when kids start talking big and thinking about how they could make it on their own: just like angels right before they are cast out of heaven. They have such innocent and dangerous ideas."

I think it is this newness to the world that makes teen characters like Baby so very appealing; they remind me what it was like to experience everything for the first time.

Grade 10- up. Readalikes: Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones (which I'm going to blog about next); Rose of No Man's Land by Michelle Tea; Broken China by Lori Aurelia Williams; Saint Iggy by KL Going.

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