Was this a case history file expanded purposefully--and unremarkably--for public enlightenment? It seems so, for the hapless misadventures of the five Clawson children, abandoned by deadbeat parents at a highway hamburger joint, are too sluggishly elaborated and encumbered with interpretive messages to satisfy as fiction. At first, Patty the eldest characteristically takes charge, shepherding the others into a riverbank hole and overseeing a diet of raw corn and stolen pastries; then, captured by surprised cops, the kids are turned over to social service workers--""The System."" Actually, this temporary institutional home, with its noble staff, is a haven after the neglect they've known but bureaucratic stupidity arrives to knock down their tentative, fragile trust: a judge assigns each to a different home. Disillusioned, Patty goes into high gear to reunite the troops (quite a trick for an unschooled eleven-year-old) and ends up punished for her well-motivated ingenuity: the victim victimized. But that high-minded staff, inspired by her example (""the wisdom of a Solomon, and the determination of a Joan of Arc""), pulls strings, sets up a group house, and recalls all five from their foster homes. Standard processing, information overload--you can hear the machinery creaking.