Review Time: The Face on the Milk Carton, et al.

“I don’t have a home there anymore. I don’t have a home anywhere. It’s like I can’t go back and I can’t go forward. Do you ever feel like that?”

Janie Johnson was a normal, average, every day girl — until she wasn’t. One day at lunch, Janie swipes someone’s cardboard milk carton (remember those?) and finds herself staring at the three-year-old version of herself. Only they’re saying this three-year-old Janie was kidnapped. And thus starts a whirlwind couple of years for Janie Johnson, aka Jennie Spring.

In The Face on the Milk Carton, Janie is faced with coming to terms with the possibility that the milk carton wasn’t lying and that she was, in fact, a girl named Jennie Spring who was kidnapped from a New Jersey mall when she was a toddler.

In Whatever Happened to Janie?, Janie/Jennie grapples with the idea of loving simultaneously her “kidnap family” in Connecticut and her “real family” in New Jersey. Will she ever be able to make anyone happy?

In The Voice on the Radio, the adorable boy-next-door Reeve Shields turns out to be a bit of an 18-year-old dick, voicing Janie’s story across Boston airwaves as he makes a name for himself at his college radio station.

In What Janie Found, Janie/Jennie again has to grapple with understanding who her “kidnap parents” Miranda and Frank really are. Sure, they didn’t actually kidnap her – that was their daughter, Hannah, though Miranda and Frank didn’t know that Janie wasn’t Hannah’s biological child. But at what point does it become willful ignorance?

Finally, in Janie Face to Face, Janie/Jennie is growing up, she’s dating, she’s getting married (spoiler alert: to Reeve!), she’s being stalked. An author is writing a true-crime book on the Spring/Johnson kidnapping saga. The Spring family participates in the book in an attempt to draw out Jennie’s kidnapper and finally get some justice. But the more they participate, the stranger reality becomes.

It’s a story we’ve all read — because it came out in 1990 and that was a hella long time ago, so you’ve had time to read it. Even if that’s not actually true (though the part about it being published in 1990 is verifiable fact), I’m sticking by my fondness for The Face on the Milk Carton and its accompanying series. I remember reading The Face on the Milk Carton many, many moons ago, and got the entire, nostalgic five-part series this past Christmas. All I remembered about the book from my first reading decades ago was having major girl-crush on Reeve Shields. At 13, he was a HUNKY BOYFRIEND and I COULD NOT WAIT to get one of those. Now, nearly 20 years later, Reeve is a little less hunky and a little more dimwitted teenaged boy (you know what I mean). But, I still stand by my affinity for him.

That said… While I enjoyed Reeve most of the time, the rest of the characters in this series got a little (a lot) annoying by the end of Janie Face to Face. Perhaps it’s because I read them all in two weeks and that’s just a lot of Johnson/Spring drama to absorb. And perhaps I should take the content with a grain of salt because it is, to be fair, meant for younger teenagers. But at some point, you have to stop using every other sentence to refer back to a previous book/story/plotline. The fifth booth, Janie Face to Face, probably could have been a quarter of the length if we had stuck with solely an original story instead of essentially retelling the previous four books within the narrative. I mean I’m all for making it easier for the reader, but let’s give the reader a little credit here and there, eh?

My favorite scene: I mean for nostalgia purposes, my favorite scene has got to be when, in The Face on the Milk Carton, Janie and Reeve fall into a pile of leaves and take the leap from friendly neighbors to hunka-hunka-burnin’ lovers. My 13-year-old fantasies were BUILT on that scene. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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