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Abandoned in the Maze Paperback – October 30, 2006
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foster care system when their mother is arrested for working for a pro-choice operation. The book is told from the perspective of seventeen-year-old Irene, who finds herself incarcerated at the Trench Center, a holding pen for youth like herself. The center serves primarily as a money-making operation, whereby its residents are diagnosed with a mental disorder and the state is billed for the medication and "therapy." While Rita is "fortunate" enough to find a foster home, Irene must endure the brutality and incompetence of the staff, until she turns eighteen, with the support of only one adult. She loses track of both her sister and mother and must rely on her wits to survive the system. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending to her story.
"Abandoned in the Maze," is a ringing accusation against a system that, in a preface, the author describes as abusive and deplorable. While there are some flaws to the book, such as sketchy character development and awkward dialogue, the subject matter is engrossing enough to keep readers turning to the last page.
The novel is set on a future stage where abortion has been outlawed in the United States and pro-choice advocates look eerily similar to the radical pro-life activists of today. Demonstrations, attacks on pro-life supporters and bombings are all part of the new pro-choice repetoire. Cheryl Cobb is a single mom, a full time waitress and a supporter of the women's civil rights orgranization known as Pop-Con. When Cheryl is arrested for her involvement with the pro-choice group, her two daughters, seventeen year old Irene and twelve year old Rita, become wards of the state and are sent to the Trench Center Group Home. Set up more like a maximum security prison than a foster home, no one leaves the Trench unscathed. The sisters are immediately separated and the hope of being reunited quickly fades as each must find a way to simply survive the physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
A sobering account of child welfare programs that are overburdened, understaffed and ill equipped to respond to the growing needs of abused, neglected and high risk youth. Adding fuel to the already intense fire is the blatant corruption occurring on every level that has reduced children to statistics, their value determined by the amount of medication and number of services that can be prescribed. The author has woven the controversial abortion issue into the fabric of the story, by presenting various angles and the possible ripple effects of certain choices. It's human nature to recoil from things that make us uncomfortable and there's no denying this is a difficult read. Although you can't help but hope for a "happily ever after" ending, it never materializes.
The author's passion and heart-felt convicitons are easily discernable and there's no denying his desire to make a difference in the lives of young people. Opening long closed doors and shining a light on the darkest of scenarios, Berg's motives are genuine and admirable. There are a few problems with the writing- failure to utilize pacing to convey urgency and emotion causes the dialogue to fall flat at times and the characters aren't fully developed and often appear weak. However, the subject matter is so moving, the reader is carried past these literary pit-falls and into center of the disturbing reality of the Trench Center. Abandoned In The Maze is an eye-opening and heart breaking view of the foster care system and the horrific abuse suffered by the most needy among us.
Seventeen-year-old Irene Cobb and her twelve-year-old sister, Rita, are forced to watch their mother being taken away in handcuffs for her association with an almost militant pro-choice organization. When Irene and Rita are driven away by indifferent "social workers," they have no idea that they are being taken to a prison of their own, a children's home known as the Trench. The Trench of Berg's imagination is a maximum security orphanage for victims of a corrupt political system. The sadistic overseers of the orphanage ensure that the few residents who manage to escape its realms do not do so with their innocence intact. Just when it appears the characters can't possibly suffer any further injustices, their wills are tested again and again by greedy captors hell-bent on their own elevation at the expense of the displaced children.
This book was my initial introduction to Michael Berg, and I will definitely be looking for more of his work. I read this sociological thriller in one sitting, eager to discover what surprises were waiting around the corner. It seems a bit of an exaggeration to call this novel a thriller, but Berg has such a talent for keeping the reader guessing and on the edge of their seat that labelling it as merely fiction seems to do it an injustice. Inspired by Berg's own experiences in the Florida child care system, Abandoned in the Maze is a roller coaster ride of emotion and controversy that looms dangerously close to reality.
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