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Abandoned in the Maze    by Michael Berg order for
Abandoned in the Maze
by Michael Berg
Order:  USA  Can
Bedside Books, 2006 (2006)
*   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Michael Berg has painted a bleak look at the child welfare system of the near future in Abandoned in the Maze. Drawing on his own experience of working with children placed in group homes by the state of Florida, Berg tackles tough social issues of which many readers will be unaware.

Irene Cobb is a tough and intelligent seventeen-year-old. She may not have the perfect life, but is happy with her mother and her sister in their tiny four-room house. Everything changes when Irene's mom is arrested for her work with Pop-Con, an underground pro-choice group whose actions support now-illegal abortions. Irene and her sister are shipped off to the Trench Center, a group home for abandoned children. When they are separated immediately upon admittance, Irene is outraged and demands to see her sister - which just gets her on the bad side of all the staff. After acquiescing to all the Center's rules in order to earn privilege points and see her sister, Irene learns that her sister has run away. Now Irene is completely alone in a corrupt system that values money more than human lives.

The story is compelling and would be even more so if Berg had stuck to Irene's story. However, he jumps around between all the characters, even minor ones, showing their thoughts and feelings. This detracts from the reader's bonding with Irene, as many of these thoughts are either irrelevant to the story or could have been brought up in dialogue, but instead, they pull focus from the main character. Another issue is that Berg tackles two complex social issues. Though the main emphasis is on the injustice that children face when placed in the system, the abortion issue often overpowers this message. Other than the fact that Irene becomes property of the state because her mother is arrested for pro-choice activities, abortion has nothing to do with the plot. The story would have been more powerful if it addressed only one major social issue.

Michael Berg's Abandoned in the Maze takes an enlightening look at the state of U.S. child-care services. It is not at all a happy novel, but you will not be able to put it down and it will stick with you even after you have finished reading it.

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