For some odd reason Cresswell, a masterly and recognizably British stylist, has taken on the rambling first-person account so prevalent in American juveniles. ""I really hate the first few pages of books, . . . and I am truly terrified that you, whoever you are, will not get past my first pages,"" she has her 13-year-old narrator say straight off--and then has him diddle around for several pages as if determined to fulfill his prophecy. (At times one suspects parody, but this is not sustained.) Even after the story gets under way, the manner is retained: Of his seven-year-old sister Lucy, narrator Oliver Saxon remarks, ""She's nuts about anything prehistoric and has got about a million books on the subject. You might say it's her collective unconscious or subconscious or whatever. You know what I mean."" The stop deals with Oliver, Lucy, and almost-16-year-old William, all left in the care of old Mrs. Bartle, who had looked after Mum as a child, while their botanist parents go off for six months in the Amazon. Mrs. Bartle's old-fashioned ideas cause some discomfort at first, but this is nothing to what happens after she dies of a heart attack, almost in Oliver's presence. With no relatives to take them in, the children are placed in foster homes, Oliver and Lucy drawing a creepy foster father, a cross, penurious foster mother, and a foster brother who lies and gets them in trouble. All three are soon moved to an institutional Home run by a nice young couple, but their secret decision to have Christmas at their summer ""shack"" finds them snowbound there with an adolescent who has run off from the Home, stolen the Saxon family car (and burglarized their house), and suffered an accident from which he may now be dying. The ending--with Mum and Dad realizing they couldn't be parted from their kids at Christmas after all, and so arriving at the shack by helicopter to rescue everyone--seems drawn from a genre Cresswell's regular audience has outgrown. For their part, the preceding chapters on the children's experience in foster care seems a milder version of material familiar from more grimly sociological YA novels. Nor does Oliver come off well when he compares his diary, east as letters to ""Mr. Jung"" (the shrink of the title), to that of Anne Frank. True, Oliver's story reads easily, is sometimes amusing, and has the appeal to empathy of helpless kids in the power of dreadful grownups. But, Anne Frank aside, we miss Cresswell's own intelligent voice.