HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Face on the Milk Carton
Author: Caroline B. Cooney
Cover Illustrator: Derek James
Publisher: Ember, reprinted 2012
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 12 and up, but I would say 16 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Cooney, Caroline B. The Face on the Milk Carton (published in 1990 by Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1540 Broadway, New York City, NY 10036; republished in 1994 by Laurel Leaf Books). Fifteen year old Jane (but everyone calls her Janie) is a sophomore in high school and lives with her dad Frank, an accountant and middle school soccer coach, and mom Miranda, a neighborhood volunteer, in a town along the Atlantic Ocean in Connecticut. She thinks her name is boring, so she tinkers with it and comes up with Jayyne Johnstone. Her best friends at school are Sarah-Charlotte Sherwood and Adair O’Dell, but they also hang out with Pete, Jason, and Katrina. Her next door neighbor Reeve Shields, the youngest of four siblings, is a senior in high school and drives a Jeep. Janie has never had a boyfriend, but she does have a secret crush on Reeve even though he is two years older. Janie also has a milk allergy. One day at school, she finishes Sarah-Charlotte’s carton of milk and notices the picture on it of a girl, Jennie Spring, who had been kidnapped ten or twelve years earlier from a shopping mall in New Jersey.
Janie thinks the picture looks familiar and begins having flash-back memories, wondering if she might be Jennie. She asks about her birth certificate but cannot find it. She looks for baby pictures of her, but there are none. All she sees in an attic trunk pertains to a girl named Hannah, including a dress which looks like the one worn by the girl on the carton. Her parents seem very evasive. Who is she—Janie Johnson or Jennie Spring? Are Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, whom she loves dearly, her real parents, or are they actually kidnappers? Who is this Hannah? And how is Janie ever going to find out the truth? The Face on the Milk Carton is like somewhat of a psychological thriller for young people. Some reviewers found it boring, but I will have to say that the elements of mystery and suspense attracted my attention immediately and held my interest throughout. Besides a couple of common euphemisms (gee and gosh), the ubiquitous “O my God” is used once. There is also a reference to drinking wine.
In addition, some modern teenage “sex talk” is found, though nothing really vulgar, and no actual sexual activity occurs. However, as one reviewer noted, when Janie and Reeve are driving to see if they can find Janie’s real parents, he pulls into a motel and gets a room ostensibly so they can have sex, but she says, “I can’t do this,” and they leave. As a result, I would agree with another reviewer who said that this book should not be recommended to the intended junior high school age group due to the sexual situations that it mentions but is more for ages 16 and up. The back cover says, “Readers left on the edge of their seats at the conclusion of The Face on the Milk Carton will race to get their hands on this equally gripping sequel,” Whatever Happened to Janie? It does leave one hanging in mid-air. Then later, I learned that there are actually now a total of five volumes in this “Janie Johnson” series including The Voice on the Radio, What Janie Found, and Janie Face to Face.