Tag Archives: Caroline B. Cooney

Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

Janie Face to FaceWhat began with the scare-every-parent-to-death middle grade/young adult novel, The Face on the Milk Cartonconcludes (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

Published: 2013

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What Janie Found by Caroline B. Cooney

The final title of Caroline B. Cooney‘s award-winning Janie Johnson quartet begins with a newspaper article that marks the anniversary of the “Missing Child Milk Carton Campaign” that – for better or for worse – reunited Janie Johnson with her birthfamily with whom she spent the first three of her 16 years as Jennie Spring.

One year later, the Johnson and Spring families have re-formed together around Janie. Brian, half of Janie’s younger twin brothers, has moved in with the Johnsons for the summer. Even Reeve has tentatively been allowed back into Janie’s life, but only as the ex-boyfriend, the boy next door, a childhood family fixture at best. She’s forgiven his betrayal, but no one has forgotten, least of all regretful, mortified Reeve.

With Janie’s Connecticut father hospitalized and her mother incapacitated with worry, Janie is given the responsibility of dealing with the family’s finances. In a folder marked “H.J.,” she finds evidence that threatens the fragile peace her two families have so carefully, painfully established … “H.J.” is Hannah Javensen, Janie’s kidnapper, and her comatose father has seemingly been supporting that destructive kidnapper for years …

Hannah is alive, “[l]ast seen flying west.” The file leads Janie to Colorado, to the very same city where Janie’s older brother Stephen is in college, a faraway city Stephen chose in an attempt to escape his family’s troubled past. With Brian and Reeve for support, Janie is determined to find some answers in Boulder, where Hannah is awaiting her next check … will Janie finally learn what happened at that pivotal moment that shattered all their lives 13 years ago? Is she ready?

A full decade has passed since Janie’s story concluded … and although Cooney is seemingly finished with a series she didn’t originally even intend after writing the first The Face on the Milk Carton almost 20 years ago, the stories have certainly stood the test of time. In 2010, Janie would be 26 … who would she have become? What of her siblings, her double set of parents, the boy next door?

The four titles will certainly appeal to younger readers … my children are both riveted with the audible version which keeps them from bickering in the car. And the books certainly made a long swim meet weekend fly by for an old reader like me. My final question is inevitable … are the ‘janies’ [see The Voice on the Radio] really finished …?

Tidbit: I have NEWS to share from Caroline Cooney herself! Here’s the latest on Janie: “Incredibly – I am about to embark on Janie V, when they are all several years older, and also will be doing a novelette in e-book format about Janie. Who’d have guessed? Certainly not I.” Whoo hoooo! Stay tuned …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2000

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The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney

If you haven’t read the first two titles of the Janie Johnson quartet, then skip this post for sure … no fun knowing too much! And, as the third volume proves, knowing too much can ruin your life. Knowledge might be power, but be sure you know how to wield it or it can only lead to hurt and destruction.

Janie’s back in Connecticut with Frank and Miranda Johnson, her so-called “kidnap family”; they are the parents she painfully chose over her birthfamily in Whatever Happened to Janie?. She’s settled back into her home, her suddenly-older parents, her friends, all that is most familiar … even as everything has irrevocably changed since she recognized her 3-year-old self in The Face on the Milk Carton.

She’s even figured out a sort-of balancing act of back and forth with her New Jersey family – her birthparents, her brothers, her sister. While the outside world remains intrusively curious (coming home to find a reporter on the front porch is more nuisance than surprise), the intertwined Johnson/Spring lives seem to be in slow, precarious recovery. Still, at every turn, Janie vigilantly guards the details of her private ordeal.

The person Janie misses most is boyfriend Reeve who’s gone off to a Boston college. He’s trying to find his own way … and discovers he has both an interest and talent for radio. At his local college station, WSCK – “We’re Here, We’re Yours, We’re Sick!” – Reeve takes the mike one night and begins a story with “Once upon a time …”

What spills out is not his story to tell, and yet in a moment of weakness, Reeve begins to reveal the odyssey of how Janie Johnson learned she was Jennie Spring. Reeve’s voice is mesmerizing, and his local fame is instant. He falls in love with his own voice, his fans, his promise for more glory and recognition, overshadowing the love he felt for that “dizzy redhead” he thought was his whole life.

When the real-life people he’s turned into an on-air circus show find out, the consequences affect not just Reeve and Janie, but the whole mixed-up, trying-to-blend family. One stupid, weak teenage boy’s decision will change all their lives forever …

This is the first of the Janie series I actually read (rather than listened to on iPod while running – where is the audible version?). The pages seemed to turn themselves, even more so because much of the book was very familiar, if not actually repeated sections from the first two books. Caroline B. Cooney cleverly reinvents the first half of her quartet here, giving it a fresh new twist from a different perspective, as well as catching readers up with Janie’s roller-coaster-of-an-unpredictable-life. Stay tuned for the finale, What Janie Found

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 1996

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Whatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline B. Cooney

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

Published: 1993

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The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

As today is Halloween, here’s a story that promises to scare, chill, and thrill you …

Sitting at lunch as usual with her friends, Janie Johnson who, at 15, is already playing with her identity by adding and changing letters to her plain name, sneaks a swig from a friend’s milk carton, even though she knows the milk will make her sick (she’s allergic). Her life changes forever.

Staring back at her is the picture of her 3-year-old self, but the milk carton clearly has someone else’s name, some other child’s birthdate, someone else’s history .. or does it? Janie recognizes the dress in the picture, can actually feel the itchy collar suddenly against her neck. Could Janie actually be this Jennie Spring, kidnapped 12 years ago from a New Jersey mall?

But Janie is a happy Connecticut teenager, who loves her adoring parents, has wonderful friends, and is falling in love for the first time with her next-door neighbor Reeve. So what if her red hair doesn’t match her parents, she knows in her heart that the nurturing, caring Johnsons are her real mother and father … aren’t they?

Having seen herself as someone else, Janie’s daymares won’t stop as her 3-year-old’s memories build with relentless force. She finally confronts her parents about the lack of baby pictures, her missing birth certificate, and the mysterious trunk in the attic marked with a name that doesn’t belong to the family.

Janie’s parents reveal a wrenching story of another daughter, Hannah, whom they lost to a cult, who reappeared one day with a little girl she claimed to be her own daughter. Hannah asked that her parents save Janie from the cult, then disappeared seemingly forever. For awhile, the convincing explanation provides relief, but the ghosts of another family, still waiting, resurface and Janie realizes she must confront her missing past …

Losing a child is every parent’s nightmare. One second they’re right here, and the next that child is missing without a trace … author Caroline B. Cooney creates a heart-thumping, emotionally entangled journey about the sometimes unbearable consequences of knowing the so-called truth. She ends the book, by the way (no spoilers here!), on quite the perfect cliffhanger!

A few minor quibbles: Janie’s mother might have been a little less vocal about her weight, while older boyfriend Reeve’s consistent sexual overtures seem inconsiderate and stifling in the midst of Janie’s emotional roller coaster ride. Regardless, the story will keep you flipping the pages without pause.

Milk Carton is the first of a four-part series about Janie Johnson that includes Whatever Happened to Janie?, The Voice on the Radio, and concludes with What Janie Found … so stay tuned.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 1990

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific