What began with the scare-every-parent-to-death middle grade/young adult novel, The Face on the Milk Carton, concludes (for now) after 23 years, four sequels books, and one e-story (What Janie Saw, which I confess is the only part of the series I haven’t read, mainly because I can’t bear to use the dreaded Kindle).
Two-plus decades after Janie was a 15-year-old high schooler in Milk Carton (and 13 years since the last Janie book), Face to Face takes readers through Janie’s first year in college. She registers as Janie Johnson in a large NYC university, hoping for anonymity. When she can, she spends more time with her New Jersey family where she is Jennie Spring, gradually becoming distanced from her Connecticut parents who have moved into an assisted living facility better equipped to deal with her father’s post-stroke limitations.
For a few months, Janie feels removed enough from her past, and even has a brief dalliance with a young man to whom she reveals next to nothing about her life. But when she’s exposed once again as that face on the milk carton, only the boy-next-door who-once-betrayed-her can comfort her. With a single phone call, she’s back in Reeve’s arms, and suddenly, unexpectedly, they’re planning a future together in which Janie just might finally embrace a third name – and a new self – she can keep forever.
But happy endings (or beginnings) must be earned … and suddenly the one person who connects everyone Janie loves just might be back in their lives. A bestselling crime author wants to write Janie’s story, and cooperating with him could lead to Hannah Javeson, the kidnapper who devastatingly, eternally bonded the Johnson and Spring families.
As Janie works to fit the scattered fragments of her life together – as daughter to four parents, sister to siblings she had forgotten she had, partner to the one true love of her young life – Caroline B. Cooney chillingly dovetails her journey of self-discovery with “Piece[s] of the Kidnapper’s Puzzle” which reveal a bitterly delusional woman lost to her twisted sense of entitlement that the world owes her a different life.
Cooney’s website insists Face is the “last” in the series. Did I sigh, smile, and (most importantly) sniffle? You bet. But I admit I also couldn’t control the occasional eye roll. This narrative, you might guess, is more sprawling than the other four (so many loose ends!) and yet, in spite of all the other characters’ chatter – her high school friends, her college roommates, her parents times two, her many siblings and their vastly changed lives post-prodigal return – Janie’s incessant self-absorption never quite lets up, cringe after cringe after cringe. That said, perhaps the eyeballs needed the emotional exercise because passing up this “last” milk carton was never an option.
Readers: Young Adult