Monday, July 08, 2013

The Face on the Milk Carton Series by Caroline B. Cooney

This book series follows Janie Johnson, a teenager who discovers that she was kidnapped as a child. The first book in this five book series was originally published in 1990 while the last book came out this year. Despite a twenty-three year gap between books, this story flawlessly bridges that gap in a timeless tale.
Book One: The Face on the Milk Carton
In this novel, Janie Johnson looks at the back of a milk carton during lunch and sees the picture of a three-year-old girl that went missing twelve years ago. Janie instantly recognizes herself in the picture and struggles with the realization that she had been kidnapped as a child.
Book Two: Whatever Happened to Janie?
The truth about Janie's kidnapping comes out and now she's being forced to live with her biological family - the Springs. They expect her to resume live as their long lost daughter Jennie, but how can she be Jennie when all she's ever known is Janie? How can she be with one family without betraying the other?
Book Three: The Voice on the Radio
Janie's boyfriend Reeve has the opportunity of a lifetime to host a radio-show at college. When he gets on-air, however, he draws a blank. The only thing he can think to talk about is Janie's riveting story about her kidnapping. He figures Janie will never figure out about his betrayal, but things don't always go as planned after his stories become a huge hit.

Book Four: What Janie Found
After the father that raised Janie suffers as severe stroke, Janie is asked to take over his financial responsibilities and makes a shocking discovery - he knows where her kidnapper is and has been supporting her with monthly checks. Janie doesn't know what to do with this information because bringing the kidnapper to justice would destroy her already fragile mother.

Book 4.5: What Janie Saw
This is an e-book update on Janie. I did not read this book and it is only about 32 pages long.

Book Five: Janie Face to Face
This is the conclusion of Janie's story. This novel finally tells the kidnapper's story - from why she kidnapped the little girl and what she's been doing for the past fifteen+ years. It also wraps up Janie's life with college and marriage.

This is a great series with characters that you care about. Everyone is a victim in this situation and it seems as if no one will walk away a winner because the villain cannot be punished. It is nice to see everything work out as Janie finds her place with two families who both love her.

While the multiple years between books seems to work flawlessly, there are a few issues - although they might go unnoticed depending on how you read these novels. I read them all within a few months of each other, so the details of one book were still fresh in my mind when I read the next. There were thirteen years between book four and five and I noticed an inconsistency in the sense that according to book four, a large amount of money was being sent for only three years, whereas book five said the money had been sent since the kidnapping and it wasn't nearly enough to survive on. This point with the money is a minor detail that people might not even pick up, but it definitely had me stopping and saying "Wait a minute...," probably because I'd just read the previous book. It did affect a few other points in the novel, but I suppose a few forgotten points should be expected and forgiven in a gap thirteen years in storytelling. 

On the other hand, an intentional change was that book five acted as if this kidnapping happened fifteen or so years ago via 2013. Now the characters have Facebook accounts and cell phones and all of the modern technologies. Does this change or the point about the money alter the overall message of the story - not so much. It would have been interesting, though, to see how the story would have evolved if the author had kept the story authentic to the original time frame - as in five years later via 1990. It might also be interesting to see how the original story might change if it all started only a few years ago.

Changes aside, I really enjoyed this novel. Many people might shy away from a novel written "so long ago," but this is really a story that bridges that time gap. Children are kidnapped all the time, so the story itself is not dated (aside from an occasional mention of a phone booth or payphone which don't really seem to exist in the age of cell phones). This is definitely a series worth reading.

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