Sheehan (A Missing Plane, 1986, etc.)--best known for her Pulitzer-winning account of a schizophrenic, Is There No Place on Earth For Me?, (1982)--continues documenting lives on society's margins: in this case, those of a 14-year-old and her premature baby who are separately channeled into the N.Y.C. foster-care system. A slightly different version of the text originally appeared in The New Yorker. Crystal Taylor lived with her 23-year-old boyfriend and his mother in a Bronx housing project--a situation preferable to the emotional and sexual abuse she'd known growing up with her drug- addicted mother, Florence--who, in any case, was homeless. Crystal came to the attention of authorities when she gave birth. Because of her age, her boyfriend was technically guilty of statutory rape, and so the hospital would not discharge her to his residence. The baby was placed with a foster family on Long Island while Crystal went to a diagnostic center--both placements meant to last only until Florence could get on her feet and take her daughter and grandson in. But almost eight years would pass before Crystal herself would be willing and able to make a home for her son. Here, the young woman's odyssey through group homes, special schools, and subsidized, ``independent'' living situations provides an in-depth, frustrating view of an overburdened system, and Crystal herself both maddens and gains sympathy as she works the system with savvy irresponsibility, surviving horrific events with vitality intact. The foster-care experiences of other family members--including those of Florence as a child--reveal people so traumatized that opportunities and a safe place to live are essential but hardly enough. Sheehan offers no solutions here--simply a relentless and dispassionate chronicle of shattered lives and inadequate institutions.