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The Face on the Milk Carton

Image Source Page: http://www.paperbackswap.com/Face-Milk-Carton-Caroline-B-Cooney/book/0440220653/


Cooney, C. B. (1990). The face on the milk carton. New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.


Janie is a typical suburban teen living in an upper middle class neighborhood. She has many friends and loving parents. She has enjoyed a happy childhood. One regular school day everything changes. She almost instantly recognizes the face on her friend’s milk carton. She remembers the dress the little girl is wearing. Janie keeps the carton and goes through numerous emotions as she tries to figure out what to do. Her boyfriend is supportive, but has his own issue on his mind too. She begins to see the clues all around her.

Eventually, she turns to her parents and they tell her about her childhood as they honestly believe it happened. They believe they are her grandparents. However, it still does not add up. In the end, with the encouragement of her mom(grandmother), Janie gets the courage to call the number she suspects to belong to her birth parents. We are left in suspense as to how the conversation goes and how this will change Janie’s life.

My Impression

I have never been a mystery book reader, but I did enjoy this book. It has richly developed characters and is suspenseful throughout. The relationships seem natural and Janie’s emotions are believable. Some of dialog and scenes reinforce this book’s place in the Young Adult section of the library. Due to the sexual content and the serious topic of kidnapping, I would recommend this book for high school students only.


Gr 7-10 The message on the milk carton reads, “Have you seen this child?” Three-year-old Jennie Spring was kidnapped 12 years earlier, but Janie Johnson, looking at the photo, suddenly knows that she is that child. Fragments of memory and evidence accumulate, and when she demands to know about her early childhood years, her parents confess what they believe to be true, that she is really their grandchild, the child of their long-missing daughter who had joined a cult. Janie wants to accept this, but she cannot forget Jennie’s family and their loss. Finally, almost against her will, she seeks help and confides in her parents. Her mother insists that she call the Spring family, and the book ends as she calls them. Many young people fantasize about having been adopted or even kidnapped, but the decisions that Janie must face are painful and complex, and she experiences denial, anger, and guilt while sorting her way toward a solution. Janie’s boyfriend-sensible, funny, with problems of his own-is an excellent foil for her intensity. Their romance is natural and believable. Cooney again demonstrates an excellent ear for dialogue and a gift for portraying responsible middle-class teenagers trying to come to terms with very real concerns.

Castleton, T. (1990).  [Review of the book The face on the milk carton, by C. Cooney]. School Library Journal 36(2). Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/

Uses in the Library

I think this book could possibly be controversial in a school library setting. I would not recommend it for everyone and therefore probably would never display it. I might work for a book club made up of the oldest students who enjoy mysteries. They could discuss how they would handle Janie’s situation. Also, could this situation even still occur in our current environment of technology aided information sharing?


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