The novel I have chosen to read for my culminating task is Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill. This plot follows the challenging life of Baby, a lanky thirteen year old girl who lives with Jules, her young father. Jules is a heroin addict, and the pair live in a run-down apartment in a small Montreal town. Baby’s mother passed away when she was very young, so she has no recollection of her, but Jules manages to change the topic whenever she brings it up. Jules is in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, which often leaves Baby alone to figure out the world for herself. However, she is naive and tries to make the best of her situation, truly believing that it is best for Jules when he is on heroin, to keep him happier.
I have greatly enjoyed this novel so far. The author incorporates a good deal of emotion in to her writing that makes me want to keep reading, as well as uses Baby’s childhood innocence to leave room for the reader to make inferences about details of her life.
The plot and setting of the novel is realistic, and I have been able to connect to many of the things Baby speaks of to scenarios in my life that I have either witnessed or personally experienced. For example, Baby lost her mother when she was very young. This is a situation that I have witnessed multiple times, within my own family and friends, as well as in other novels or shows. This reminds me of another novel I have read, “Room” by Emma Donoghue, where a young boy named Jack is raised in a singular room by his mother. He has never seen the outside world, and this makes me think of Baby’s situation, being raised by just Jules, and not experiencing many things outside of her own apartment building.
O’Neill uses the emotion in her writing to demonstrate how even though Baby does not know her mother, she misses her. For example, she says, “I put the conch up to my ear, as I often did. Sometimes I didn’t hear the sound of the beach at all. Sometimes I was sure that I could hear the sound of my mother laughing” (O’Neill 59). The way the author writes allows the reader to really imagine how Baby must be feeling in that moment, as well as possibly connect to a situation in their own lives.
Jules’ substance abuse problems began shortly after Baby’s mother died. This is another thing I was able to make a connection to, as I have observed many people in my own life and in other novels deal with tragedy in various ways, including with the use of drugs and alcohol. “A Million Little Pieces”by James Frey is a novel that I read that I can connect to this. It goes in depth on exactly how substance abuse affects a person, and gives me a better understanding of what Jules is going through.
However, Baby does not view Jules’ use of drugs as an issue, but rather as something that keeps them both happy. She explains, “When he was stoned, he was honest. I love it when he told me secrets” (O’Neill 18). Because Baby still holds her childhood innocence, she blissfully ignores the major problems of drug addiction, and focuses on what she sees as the positive side: Jules is happier, and their father-daughter relationship is seemingly stronger. She does not have a true parent-figure, so she clings to each little moment she can get with her stoned father.
Another thing I have noticed about O’Neill’s writing throughout this novel is that it is very descriptive, and allows me to really visualize what is being seen or felt. For example, Baby describes “I closed my eyes and the roof was gone. I could see the stars while the piano tinkled. I could see Jupiter and it was blue, and Neptune was silver like a tennis ball sprayed silver. I could reach out and touch it, like cold water” (O’Neill 87). Here the author uses similes as well as detailed description to paint a picture of what Baby is seeing.
About halfway through the section I read, Jules is sent to another rehabilitation centre, and Baby is sent to live with in a foster home. This is where she meets Felix. I believe that O’Neill included Felix to give Baby a companion, and someone she can relate to. Felix struggles with many of the same things as Baby, such as lack of a strong parental figure. They quickly become close friends, and he helps her discuss things that she could not talk about with Jules, such as her mother’s passing. Felix makes Baby feel like she is not truly alone.
The plot line throughout this novel has been intriguing, but it seems to be building up to something bigger. I predict that a major event is going to occur within the next section of the book that I read, that will change Baby’s life drastically. I would like to see her quality of life improve, and possibly find a new companion now that she is not living with Felix anymore.
O’Neill, Heather. Lullabies for Little Criminals: a Novel. HarperCollins, 2006, New York. Print.