Lullabies for Little Criminals

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Lullabies for Little Criminals
First edition
AuthorHeather O'Neill
Publication date
Media typePrint Paperback
Pages330 pp

Lullabies for Little Criminals is a 2006 novel by Heather O'Neill.

The book was chosen for inclusion in the 2007 edition of Canada Reads, where it was championed by musician John K. Samson. Lullabies for Little Criminals won the competition.


Plot summary[edit]

The novel revolves around the twelve-year-old protagonist named Baby and follows her for two years. Baby lives with her father Jules, who has a worsening heroin addiction. The two move frequently, to various places around Montreal, where they encounter many other characters, among them junkies, bums, pimps, and abused children.

Baby was born while Jules was in high school with her mother, who died soon after Baby was born, though the cause of death is not revealed immediately.

Jules often leaves young Baby by herself wherever they may be living, for anywhere from a week to over a month at a time. Baby becomes distraught and finds herself wandering the streets of Montreal on her own. She is eventually taken away by Child Protective Services and put into a foster home while Jules is in the hospital with tuberculosis. There she makes friends with two boys, Linus Lucas, a 14-year-old who all the children think is the very height of cool, and Zachary, a mellow, happy 12-year-old. When Jules finally picks her up, he promises that everything will return to normal.

As Jules and Baby begin to settle down again, Jules' addiction gets the best of him and he begins to lash out at Baby, often for no reason. Baby eventually runs away and finds a semblance of security with a pimp named Alphonse. Around this time, she is taken into juvenile detention, and spends about a month in there. Alphonse develops an intimate relationship with Baby, taking her virginity, and forcing her to become a prostitute. She becomes one of his "girls" and is fearful of leaving him. She attempts to return to the apartment she had shared with Jules, but it is locked from the inside and nobody is there, so she assumes Jules has abandoned her. Alphonse also exposes her to heroin, making her addicted to it.

Baby goes back to school while still prostituting herself and meets an odd boy named Xavier. Xavier and Baby slowly but surely become closer and begin to date. As their relationship grows, they become very intimate, and have sex at Alphonse's hotel room, the only place they can be alone. When Alphonse returns to find them there, he beats Xavier and sends him home. Alphonse then beats Baby and takes all of her heroin. When Baby wakes up the next morning, she finds Alphonse dead of a drug overdose.

Baby leaves Alphonse's room and is left with nowhere to go. She decides to go to a nearby homeless shelter where she had heard that Jules was staying. They embrace, and Jules explains that he has set up a place to stay with his cousin. They pack up and walk to the local bus station. On the bus, Jules explains that Baby's mother died in a car crash while Jules was driving. The other driver was drunk at the time.

Upon arrival at Jules' cousin's house in Val des Loups, the story ends.


One major symbol in this novel is the ragdoll Baby chooses to play with. The old ragdoll which was probably another girl's thrown away toy represented so much more to her than that. Her life was one big crummy hotel room. It appeared alright from the street, and the idea of living in a hotel might seem glamorous for some, but once you entered their abode you realized that it was no more than that. Tattered, dirty, and old; just like her rag doll. Baby proved herself to be so naive that the fact that she cherished that ratty doll symbolized how she cherished her druggie father. She was unaware of the obvious flaws of both her drug addict father and her dirty old doll [1]

The doll also represented her lost childhood. Dolls are typically used by young girls in make-believe play, and represent a sort of juvenility. Baby was not the typical 12 year-old. She quickly grew beyond her years when she was forced into prostitution by Alphonse.[2] She went from a young girl, naïve to the world around her, to a sex-slave. She experienced horrible aspects of the world before she even reached adolescence. Many of us will never fall subject to most of the things that Baby had to deal with before she even reached high school. This does not allow for the proper childhood that every child should experience.

Even before being enslaved in prostitution, Baby was robbed of a proper childhood because of her father. Jules did not allow for her to grow up as a normal girl should, not because he was strict and had rules for her, but simply because he did not provide the guidance or the personality building skills to go out and be a functioning, sociable young girl. She did not have the capacity to make friends, and therefore was forced to spend all of her time at home with her father who was frequently using drugs. The limited exposure she had into the world of a normal 12-year-old disadvantaged her to the point that she did not know what a normal childhood should be like. Imagine a girl that lived in Baby’s world, yet had exposure to the other side of things; perhaps she visited a friend’s house where her parents were physically and emotionally present, allowing her to realize that the life she lives with her father is not the typical one.

This being said, it became clear that Baby desired to explore the world outside of her and her father’s crummy old apartments. This could be seen when she took it upon herself to leave the apartment on her own and explore the city. This was partly because she wanted to know what Jules did and saw when he left her at home alone, but also probably partly because she wanted to know what else was out there. She clearly desired to know what else was in the city for her, if there was another kind of life that she could be living. Unfortunately, her naivety and inquisitive tendencies lead her directly to Alphonse. To baby he seemed like a guiding figure, she believed that he truly had her best interest at heart, but you could clearly see that this wasn’t the case. Baby’s eventual experimentation with Heroin, her father’s drug of choice, also represents her desire to know what the world her father lived in was like.[3] Exploring the city he left her at home for was not enough. This displays her feelings of betrayal towards her father. She wanted desperately to understand why her father put her in the world he did when he chose to leave her to buy drugs, or when he came home high. It was as if she wanted to understand why Jules chose drugs over her, time and time again.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS. (2006). Kirkus Reviews, 74(15), 747.
  2. ^ LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS. (2006). Kirkus Reviews, 74(15), 747.
  3. ^ LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS. (2006). Kirkus Reviews, 74(15), 747.

LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS. (2006). Kirkus Reviews, 74(15), 747.