Gripping case histories of children caught in tangled forests of bureaucracy and dark caves of misunderstanding, by a a court-appointed child advocate. Employing the techniques of both fiction and docudrama, novelist Courter (The Midwife's Advice, 1992, etc.) recounts her experiences as a Guardian ad Litem, Florida's appellation for the person--often a volunteer, as she was--designated to represent the child's interests in cases of abuse and neglect. In most instances, the author was able to clear a path through the brambles, but it rarely led to a happily-ever-after ending. Lydia, for instance, was a teenager falsely accused of putting her sister in a microwave oven. Rejected by her mother and stepfather, she bounced from foster home to institution. Using the considerable powers accorded to a guardian, which include access to court, school, and even sealed psychological records, Courter was able to clear Lydia's name and ensure her stay with a foster family who had grown to love and respect her. The sexually abused Stevenson children were not so lucky. Courter put in hundreds of hours helping them prepare to testify against their father, but he went free. The author has changed names and identifying details in her accounts of these and other cases, but she does not disguise her dismay over bureaucratic bungling-- often on the part of social service workers with too many cases and not enough resources. As she describes it here, the guardian program can often cut the red tape. Besides their investigative mandate, guardians can promise children confidentiality (unless a threat has been made) and present recommendations directly to presiding judges. Through these advocates, kids in trouble have a voice in court and some control over their lives. Forceful, unashamed recruitment for guardian programs--and powerful enough that it just might swell the ranks of volunteers.