BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

Face on the Milk CartonAs today is Halloween, here’s a story that promises to scare, chill, and thrill you …

Sitting at lunch as usual with her friends, Janie Johnson who, at 15, is already playing with her identity by adding and changing letters to her plain name, sneaks a swig from a friend’s milk carton, even though she knows the milk will make her sick (she’s allergic). Her life changes forever.

Staring back at her is the picture of her 3-year-old self, but the milk carton clearly has someone else’s name, some other child’s birthdate, someone else’s history .. or does it? Janie recognizes the dress in the picture, can actually feel the itchy collar suddenly against her neck. Could Janie actually be this Jennie Spring, kidnapped 12 years ago from a New Jersey mall?

But Janie is a happy Connecticut teenager, who loves her adoring parents, has wonderful friends, and is falling in love for the first time with her next-door neighbor Reeve. So what if her red hair doesn’t match her parents, she knows in her heart that the nurturing, caring Johnsons are her real mother and father … aren’t they?

Having seen herself as someone else, Janie’s daymares won’t stop as her 3-year-old’s memories build with relentless force. She finally confronts her parents about the lack of baby pictures, her missing birth certificate, and the mysterious trunk in the attic marked with a name that doesn’t belong to the family.

Janie’s parents reveal a wrenching story of another daughter, Hannah, whom they lost to a cult, who reappeared one day with a little girl she claimed to be her own daughter. Hannah asked that her parents save Janie from the cult, then disappeared seemingly forever. For awhile, the convincing explanation provides relief, but the ghosts of another family, still waiting, resurface and Janie realizes she must confront her missing past …

Losing a child is every parent’s nightmare. One second they’re right here, and the next that child is missing without a trace … author Caroline B. Cooney creates a heart-thumping, emotionally entangled journey about the sometimes unbearable consequences of knowing the so-called truth. She ends the book, by the way (no spoilers here!), on quite the perfect cliffhanger!

A few minor quibbles: Janie’s mother might have been a little less vocal about her weight, while older boyfriend Reeve’s consistent sexual overtures seem inconsiderate and stifling in the midst of Janie’s emotional roller coaster ride. Regardless, the story will keep you flipping the pages without pause.

Milk Carton is the first of a four-part series about Janie Johnson that includes Whatever Happened to Janie?, The Voice on the Radio, and concludes with What Janie Found … so stay tuned.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 1990



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