1990s Nostalgia: The Face on the Milk Carton

There are some books that stay with you practically forever.

Another memorable book from my youth is The Face on the Milk Carton.  Like Judy Blume, Caroline B. Cooney was an American author who wrote realistic teen fiction. Unlike Blume, Caroline B. Cooney dabbled in a variety of genres and was a regular among the point horror authors in the early 1990s, a line up that included other greats such as RL Stine. She is still actively writing suspense novels for young adults.

Surprising then that during the Point Horror era, she would release the one book that would become her best selling and her most memorable.

The Face on the Milk Carton tells the story of fifteen year old Janie Johnson. Janie is a well adjusted, although slightly spoiled only child of ageing parents Frank and Miranda Johnson. She has never had to want for anything. And then one day, she spots a picture of herself, as a three-year-old on the back of a milk carton. The child on the milk carton is Jennie Spring, lived in a different state and went missing exactly twelve years ago. What follows is a page turning and gut wrenching ride as Janie and her friend Reeve try to investigate what happened. Did Frank and Miranda really kidnap Janie, or are other forces at work? Who is the mysterious woman named Hannah Javenson? Why do Janie's parents have a box of her belongings in the attic? As a fourteen-year-old, I literally lapped up all the drama and kept wanting to know what would happen next.

The novel ends on quite a cliffhanger. The author never intended to write a sequel, but three years later, a second novel What Happened to Janie, which deals with Janie's reunion with her birth family, appeared on the shelves and became just as popular as The Face on the Milk Carton. Together, both books were made into a TV movie titled The Face on the Milk Carton. There were a few differences from the book to movie, for example Brendan and Brian Spring do not appear in the movie and Jodie Spring is significantly younger and a far more sympathetic character, than the prickly Jodie who appeared in the book. According to IMDB the surnames of each family are also different, Jessmon and Sands. In Australia, the film aired one Friday night on Channel 10, shortly after I had read the first book but not the second. Needless to say, the second book was soon checked out from my local library. 

What I was unaware of, until very recently, was that the books about Janie would continue to be released. The Voice on the Radio and What Janie Found continued the series and slowly unravel the mystery of what happened (or may have happened,) to Hannah Javenson. Later, an eBook titled what Janie Saw was also released. The books no longer had the impact of the original or its finely written sequel, sadly.

At the beginning of this year a much longer, and final book in what is now known as the Janie Johnson series, titled Janie Face to Face was released. I'm looking forward to posting my review of this one tomorrow. (I also went through hell trying to find an image of the edition I read in the mid-1990s for this review, but that is another story.)


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