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Toth's first book, The Mole People (1993), described her descent into the tunnels beneath Manhattan, in search of the homeless, disaffected figures inhabiting that eerie netherworld. As in that earlier work, she brings to this book the same courage, perserverence, and ability to draw from people their private thoughts. Included are the sagas of teenagers and young adults abandoned in fact or in spirit by their parents, who early on entered the "system," meaning the social-services child- protective system. Each of the children caromed from caseworker to caseworker, from foster home to group home to juvenile detention center, from relatives to friends to the streets. Sometimes the relatives did more damage than the group homes, sometimes the reverse, but the damage was always compounded by rootlessness and rigidity and by the absence (or betrayal) of hope. Toth chose her subjects (Damien and Sebastian, who meet and clash in a group home in North Carolina; Jamie, also from North Carolina; Angel, from Los Angeles; and Bryan, from Chicago) both because their cases seemed representative and because they agreed to talk to her (making them, perhaps, somewhat less representative). She is able to maintain a humane objectivity in documenting their stories—being empathetic without either entirely excusing or blaming the caseworkers, the children (who have burgled, raped, and maimed, abused drugs, engaged in prostitution, and tortured animals), or even their parents, always the likeliest target. An introductory chapter sets up the social stats: increasing numbers of children in care, causes and solutions as they are best understood, mixed messages, and missed diagnoses.
There is no formula here for solving the tragic problems; there are only the problems—raw, sad, always frustrating, but sometimes with unexpectedly rewarding resolutions. Toth tells it like it is.