Already excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, this gallery of five quite singular working-class women closely resembles, in tone and technique, Robert Coles' Children of Crisis volumes, but its outreach is somewhat limited by the selection and by the existence of other books covering similar ground. The focus is on ""the particular complexity of their lives as poor or working class women""--their individual orientations and some beliefs shared as women: ""A woman marries a man, and that's how she gets into her life,"" or ""A girl's future is determined by the man she marries."" Two of the women are mavericks who resisted traditional women's roles--an unmarried black migrant worker who now manages a gas station and a small-town Eskimo woman who carved out for herself a special niche--and two are more typically employed workers with strong family ties: a supermarket checker, transplanted from Appalachia to Dayton, and a Chicano hotel maid who rejected the big time for a more pedestrian life. For this group, the middle-class goals of the women's movement seem not just remote but undesirable. But it is the maid in a Cambridge (Mass.) household, considerably more observant than the missus she ""liberates,"" who sees the similarities and differences between herself and her employer, and appreciates the ironies also. What has worked so well in Dr. Coles' books on children works less well here because the selection seems so skewed; although a sense of purposeful, even noble struggling comes through, there is no attempt to represent the balance of opinions or experience offered in, for example, Seifer's Nobody Speaks for Me or Howe's Pink Collar Workers--two books the Coleses include as references. A polished sideliner, then, rather than a center-ring resource.