Review: Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

Following on from yesterday's post on The Face on the Milk Carton today I am reviewing the fifth and final novel in the Caroline B. Cooney's intriguing Janie Johnson series. I found this novel totally by chance a little over a week ago, when I was walking through Dymocks. As anyone who has read my previous post would be aware, as a teen I was quite a fan of The Face on the Milk Carton and it's sequel What Happened to Janie. I was unaware that two more sequels, plus an eBook, had been written about the poor, tortured Janie Johnson, who was suffering quite an identity crisis, having discovered that she was abducted as a toddler and that the people who had lovingly raised her as their own were in fact the parents of the woman who kidnapped her. This is all explained as Janie abductor, Hannah, was a member of a religious cult and fooled her parents into believing that Janie was her daughter and that she was trying to escape from the cult and the husband that the cult leaders had chosen for her. In actual fact, Hannah had been scared to make the trip back to her parents house alone and had abducted Jennie Spring (who she renamed Janie,) in order to win their sympathy. She left the house and was never seen or heard from again, though in the sequel, two of the Spring kids discover that she has been arrested for prostitution. Anyway, the series follows Janie's coming of age as she slowly gets to know her birth family while remaining loyal to Frank and Miranda, whose only crime was to believe that they were more fit to raise her than their daughter. It's a slow process and, frankly, the third and fourth sequels don't look all that interesting to me.

Anyway, Janie Face to Face opens about three to four years after The Face on the Milk Carton with Janie about to start college in New York. In New York she will be equal distance between both of her families and won't be forced to choose one between the other. She will also have a greater degree of anonymity as the whole story has been quite a media circus which she has found quite draining.

And then some researcher starts bugging her for interviews.

Meanwhile, the reader finally gets to see the story retold from Hannah's perspective. There is no mention of her arrest for prostitution and she is portrayed as a far weaker, childish and far more self-serving character than Frank and Miranda's description of her in the original book. She would also appear to have no conscience, which is, again, inconsistent with Frank and Miranda's description of a child who was obsessed with knowing the difference between wrong and right. But hey, maybe Frank and Miranda just wanted to see the best in their daughter. I was half expecting to find Hannah to be a character who was remorseful and wanting to atone for her sins but not knowing how, but the reader can plainly see that she's a villain. Most of Hannah's part of the book show her closing in on Janie, who she blames for stealing away Frank and Miranda's affections. Her arrest for prostitution is not mentioned at all in the novel. 

Meanwhile, the Johnson and Spring families and their friends are all being pursed by a crime writer and his team of researchers for interviews about the abduction. Some of the other Spring kids (well now technically adults,) are more willing than others--for Brendan it's a chance to come into his own, Stephen is more interested in finding Hannah and seeing her punished and Jodie is her usual self-righteous self. As for the Johnson's, Miranda doesn't want to say anything and Frank is now barely able to speak due to a stroke.

Much of the novel's suspense and best moments come from one of the biggest plot holes. The difficulty is that The Face on the Milk Carton was published in 1990, an era before mobile phones and the Internet were accessible by the general public. Janie Face to Face was published in 2013 and makes numerous mentions of iPhones, facebook and the Internet. Yet only four, or perhaps three and a bit years, are supposed to have passed. To think that The Face in the Milk Carton was set somewhere around twenty years after it's publication requires a huge suspension of belief. However, the suspension of belief is worth doing in some respects one watches Hannah uses modern technology to close in on Janie. 

There is also another important plot to the novel, that of Janie organising her wedding to Reeve. Through her wedding and decision to change her name back to Jennie, she finally grows closer to her birth family and at last, the Springs get some real closure and can feel as though their sister/daughter has finally returned to them. 

In many respects I enjoyed this novel. However, in many respects it had moved away from the original novel. Hannah was not at all who I pictured her to be and it was odd to see her portrayed as a villain in a series that showcased so many well-rounded characters and multiple sides to the same story. It looks as if Janie/Jennie has finally got some closure, but in all honesty, I would not be surprised if one day, the author penned another sequel. Daughter of Janie, perhaps?


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