The Face on the Milk Carton
The Face on the Milk Carton was first published in 1990, but though I actually was a young adult at the time, I was unaware of its existence. The basic plot is that lactose-intolerant Janie Johnson rebels one day at lunch and has some milk, only to see her own face on the carton alongside the name “Jennie Spring” and a 1-800 number for missing children. She begins to remember things about her past, but is racked by indecision because her parents are so lovely. Could they possibly be capable of such a thing? And what does it say about her that she was lured away willingly with the promise of an ice cream sundae?
It’s interesting to compare the way this book is written to how it would be today; a modern version would probably be in the first person, for example, and would not contain fifteen-year-olds who believe that “dumbbell” is an age-appropriate insult. Possibly it would involve genuine peril. In comparison, Face comes across as a bit chaste, though there are allusions to how far Janie and her boyfriend have gone in their making out. Perhaps “mild” would be a better word for it.
There are some things I liked and didn’t like about the book. As if there were no other way to solve Janie’s dilemma, we get an extremely contrived solution in which she a) puts an account of her abduction down on paper and b) slips it into an envelope onto which she has previously typed her actual return address and c) decides to address it to her birth family though she intends to take it home and put it in the attic and d) promptly loses it and must assume that a good Samaritan will affix a stamp and send it for her. Eyeroll. I did like that Janie’s boyfriend showed his true (and shitty) colors by getting all huffy that her inconvenient kidnapping trauma was cutting into the attention/action he was getting. Alas, though her “drop dead!” reaction was satisfying, she was soon feeling bad about it. Eyeroll again.
Still, despite my complaints, I did think it was a pretty enjoyable (and quick!) read, and I’m interested to see what happens next.
Whatever Happened to Janie?
While the first book in this series had some suspense to it, Whatever Happened to Janie? is 100% family drama. Because the family that raised her, the Johnsons, has no legal claim to her, Janie is returned to the Spring family after an absence of almost twelve years. The book is primarily about her struggles to adjust to different parents, four siblings, and a life less affluent and cultured than the one she left behind.
Janie feels intensely loyal to the Johnsons, and thus doesn’t try as hard as she might to get along with the Springs. Indeed, she is frequently hurtful to them on purpose. We do get the points of view of her two older siblings, which I appreciated, as they show that the Springs are truly a very nice family that simply had unrealistic expectations about what would happen when Janie came home. Surprise! She’s still as much of a brat as she was when she was three.
There were some subtle moments I enjoyed when she did start to think of the Springs are her real family, but just as she makes real progress, she decides she’s going back to the Johnsons. The Springs consent to this, and everyone plans to continue visiting and corresponding, but it still strikes me as a weird arrangement. Is she going to live the rest of her life as Janie Johnson, then? Will she get her name changed legally? What kind of documentation did the Johnsons provide to enroll her in school in the first place, come to think of it?
Anyway, I’m thinking about it too much.
After this, I did plan to continue on to the next installment in the series, The Voice on the Radio. I checked it out from the library more than once, but just could not summon any enthusiasm for a book about Janie’s shitty attention-seeking boyfriend, Reeve, getting a job at his college radio station and blabbing all of the painful details about Janie’s experience to his listeners.