Award-winning author Caroline Cooney never intended to write a sequel to The Face on the Milk Carton, which she ends with an uncertain telephone call: “I wanted you to have to go on worrying about Janie, just as those real life parents had to go on worrying about their lost child,” she writes on her author page.
“But in a sermon at the church where I was then organist, the minister retold the story of King Solomon, who was faced with two women, each claiming to be the mother of the same child. How could the King tell which of the two women was the real mother? Split the baby in half, he said, and each of you take half. Of course, the real mother was the one who did not want her baby destroyed. In Janie’s messy and tragic situation, who was her real mother? That question was the basis of Whatever Happened to Janie?,” Cooney further explains.
So what happens? To tell you that Janie returns to her New Jersey family to become Jennie Spring 12 years after her kidnapping is not telling you too much; the second of the four titles in the Janie series begins with both her Connecticut Johnson family and her New Jersey Spring family (which includes an older brother and sister, younger twin brothers, as well as her nervous birthparents) in the throes of preparing for the transition. Janie is faced with tormented weeping on one side, cautious excitement and joy on the other …
The adjustment is more difficult than anyone ever imagined (how could it be otherwise?). Janie doesn’t know how to become Jennie … and any hint of accepting her birthfamily feels like a betrayal of whom she still feels is her ‘real’ family. Her older siblings watch unbearably as Janie seems to reject their worried parents again and again, and their own hopes (especially sister Jody’s) for a happy reunited family seem to be an ever-distant wish.
The FBI agent involved with the case returns to ask Jennie more probing questions about her mall abduction, and for the first time, Janie understands the agony her birthparents endured in trying to find her. The family learns that her kidnapper Hannah, the Johnsons’ daughter, was in police custody in New York City just two years ago … and perhaps she’s still out there somewhere now …
No spoilers here as to what Janie decides at the end of the second book … if only she could be split in half, right?
If you’re a parent, you’ll definitely cry. If you’re younger, you might shed a tear or two … but you’ll definitely feel the need to be kinder to your old parents the next time they do the usual interrogation of who, what, where, and most importantly, when you’ll finally return home.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult