The Face on the Milk Carton

( 603 )

Overview

No one ever really paid close attention to the faces of the missing children on the milk cartons. But as Janie Johnson glanced at the face of the ordinary little girl with her hair in tight pigtails, wearing a dress with a narrow white collar—a three-year-old who had been kidnapped twelve years before from a shopping mall in New Jersey—she felt overcome with shock. She recognized that little girl—it was she. How could it possibly be true?

Janie can't believe that her loving ...

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The Face on the Milk Carton (Janie Johnson Series #1)

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Overview

No one ever really paid close attention to the faces of the missing children on the milk cartons. But as Janie Johnson glanced at the face of the ordinary little girl with her hair in tight pigtails, wearing a dress with a narrow white collar—a three-year-old who had been kidnapped twelve years before from a shopping mall in New Jersey—she felt overcome with shock. She recognized that little girl—it was she. How could it possibly be true?

Janie can't believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she begins to piece things together, nothing makes sense. Something is terribly wrong. Are Mr. and Mrs. Johnson really her parents? And if not, who is Janie Johnson, and what really happened?

A photograph of a missing girl on a milk carton leads Janie on a search for her real identity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A milk carton portrait causes a 15-year-old girl to question her true identity; citing the novel's ``strong characterizations and suspenseful, impeccably paced action,'' PW added, ``The roller-coaster ride Jane experiences with her emotions is both absorbing and convincing.'' Ages 12-up. Apr.
School Library Journal
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 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 protraying responsible middle-class teen-agers trying to come to terms with very real concerns. A good choice for readers of Norma Fox Mazer's Taking Terri Muller Morrow, 1983. --Tatiana Castleton, Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385742382
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 5/22/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 41,064
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

CAROLINE B. COONEY is the bestselling author of more than thirty young adult books, including the million-copy plus bestseller, The Face on the Milk Carton.

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Read an Excerpt

Janie finished her essay.

She never knew what grade she would get in Mr. Brylowe's English class. Whenever she joked, he wanted the essay serious. Whenever she was serious, he had intended the essay to be lighthearted.

It was October.

Outdoors throbbed with autumn. She could feel the pulse of the deep-blue skies. With every leaf wrenched off its twig and whirled by the wind, Janie felt a tug. She felt like driving for hours; taking any road at all; just going.

Actually Janie was only fifteen and had barely started driving lessons. She was having driving fantasies because of dinner last night.

Her parents—as always—had taken opposite sides. Setting themselves up like a debate team, her mother and father would argue until some invisible marital timer rang. Then they would come to terms, rushing to meet in the middle. Until last night her mother had said Janie could begin driving while her father said she could not. "She's just a baby," said her father, in the infuriating, affectionate way of fathers.

"She's old," said Janie's mother lightly. "Practically a woman. A sophomore in high school."

"I hate when that happens," her father grumbled. "I like my little girl to stay little. I'm against all this growing up.' He wound some of Janie's hair around his wrist.

Janie had fabulous hair: a wild, chaotic mane of red curls glinting gold. People always commented on it. As her best friend, Sarah-Charlotte, said, "Janie, that is serious hair."

"I guess you've grown up anyway, Janie," said her father reluctantly. "Even with all the bricks I put on your head to keep you little. Okay, I give in. You can drive."

In English, Janie smiled to herself. Her father was an accountant who in the fall had time to coach the middle-school soccer teams. Today after school he'd have a practice, or a game, but when he came home—they'd go driving!

She wrote her name on her essay.

She had gradually changed her name. "Jane" was too dull. Last year she'd added a "y," becoming Jayne, which had more personality and was sexier. To her last name—Johnson—she'd added a "t," and later an "e" at the end, so now she was Jayne Johnstone.

Her best friends—Sarah-Charlotte Sherwood and Adair O'Dell had wonderful, tongue-twisting, memorable names. Why, with the last name Johnson (hardly a name at all; more like a page out of the phone book) had her parents chosen "Jane"? They could have named her Scarlett, or Allegra. Perhaps Roxanne.

Now she took the "h" out of Johnston and added a second "y" to Jayne.

Jayyne Jonstone. It looked like the name you would have if you designed sequined gowns for a living, or pointed to prizes on television quiz shows.

"Earth to Janie," said Mr. Brylowe.

She blushed, wondering how many times he had called her.

"The rest of us are reading our essays aloud, Janie,' said Mr. Brylowe. "We'd like to issue an invitation for you to join us."

She blushed so hotly she had to put her hands over her cheeks.

"Don't do that," said Pete. "You're cute when your face matches your hair."

Immediately, the back row of boys went into barbershop singing, hands on hearts, invisible straw hats flung into the air. "Once in love with Janie," they sang.

Janie had never had a boyfriend. She was always asked to dances, was always with a crowd—but no boy had actually said I want to be with you and you alone.

Mr. Brylowe told Janie to read her essay aloud.

The blush faded. She felt white and sick. She hated standing up in class. Hated hearing her voice all alone in the quiet of the room.

The bell rang.

English was a split period: they had lunch in the middle and came back for more class. Never had lunch come at such an appropriate moment. Perhaps she would write a better essay during the twenty-seven minutes of lunch.

Certainly it wasn't going to take Janie long to eat. They had recently discovered she had a lactose intolerance. This was a splashy way of saying she had stomachaches when she drank milk. "No more ice cream, no more milk" was the medical/parental decree.

However, peanut butter sandwiches (which she had in her bag lunch) required milk. I am so sick of fruit juice, Janie thought. I want milk.

She had been eating since the school year began with Pete, Adair, Sarah-Charlotte, Jason, and Katrina.

She loved all their names.

Her last-year's daydream—before a driver's license absorbed all daydream time—had been about her own future family. She couldn't picture her husband-to-be, but she could see her children perfectly: two beautiful little girls, and she would name them Denim and Lace. She used to think about Denim and Lace all the time. Shopping at the mall with Sarah-Charlotte, shed go into all the shoe stores to play with the little teeny sneakers for newborns, and think of all the pretty clothes she'd buy one day for Denim and Lace.

Now she knew those names were nauseating, and if she did name her daughters Denim and Lace, there'd probably be a divorce, and her husband would get custody on the grounds anybody who chose those names was unfit. She'd have to name them something sensible, like Emily and Margaret.

Peter, Adair, Sarah-Charlotte, Jason, Katrina, and Janie went in a mob down the wide stairs, through the wide halls, and into the far-too-small cafeteria. The kids complained about the architecture of the school (all that space dedicated to passing periods and hardly any to lunch), but they loved being crammed in, filching each other's potato chips, telling secrets they wanted everybody to overhear, passing notes to be snatched up by the boy you hoped would snatch them, and sending the people on the outside of the crush to get you a second milk.

Everybody but Janie Johnson got milk: cardboard cartons so small you needed at least three, but the lunch ladies would never let you. Janie was envious. Those luckies are swigging down nice thick white milk, she thought, and I'm stuck with cranberry juice.

"Okay," said Sarah-Charlotte. Sarah-Charlotte would not bother with you if you tried to abbreviate her name. Last year she had reached a standoff with a teacher who insisted on calling her Sarah. Sarah-Charlotte glared at him silently for months until he began calling her Miss Sherwood, which let them both win. "Okay, who's been kidnapped this time?" said Sarah-Charlotte wearily, as if jaded with the vast number of kidnappings in the world. Sarah-Charlotte patted her white-blond hair, which was as neat as if she had cut it out of a magazine and pasted it onto her head. Janie, whose mass of hair was never the same two minutes in a row, and whose face could be difficult to find beneath the red tangles, never figured out how Sarah-Charlotte kept her hair so neat. "I have approximately five hundred thousand fewer hairs than you do," Sarah-Charlotte explained once.

Everybody turned the milk cartons over to see who had been kidnapped. The local dairy put pictures of stolen children on the back of the carton. Every few weeks there was a new child.

"I don't know how you're supposed to recognize somebody who was three years old when she got taken from a shopping center in New Jersey, and that was nearly a dozen years ago," said Adair. "It's ridiculous." Adair was as sleek and smooth as her name; even her dark hair matched: unruffled and gleaming like a seal out of water.

Janie sipped juice from a cardboard packet and pretended it was milk. Across the cafeteria Reeve waved. Reeve lived next door. He was a senior. Reeve never did homework. It was his life ambition to get in the Guinness Book of World Records, and the only thing he had a stab at was the "Never Did His Homework Once but Still Got the Occasional B Plus" listing.

Reeve had gotten the occasional B plus, but he had also gotten a lot of D's and F's. News came from the Academic Office that unless Reeve shaped up, he would not graduate with his class.

His two older sisters and one older brother had gone to spectacular colleges—Cornell, Princeton, and Stanford. They were mortified by Reeve's failures and came home weekends to tell him so.

Reeve had ceased to speak to his entire family. In fact, he stomped away and had supper at Janie's so often that Janie's mother had said last night, "I'm thinking of charging your parents a meal fee."

Reeve did not laugh. In a strangled voice he said, "I'm sorry. I won't come again."

Janie's father punched him, the way, if it had been Janie, he would have hugged. Jabbing Reeve in the gut, her father said, "Meals here, bed there, Reeve. Someday we'll collect our debt."

"Yeah, when I'm a plumber," said Reeve gloomily, "you'll let me clean your drains."

"Now, Reeve. Just start studying, pull those grades up, and—" Her father broke off. "Right," he said, punching Reeve again. "In this house we won't discuss it. Here. Have a brownie and some ice cream."

It was such a trespass on Reeve, that everybody knew the details. Whatever Reeve kept secret, his mother told Janie's mother anyway. Reeve felt cramped by the intimacy of his life: he had always lived in this town, always gone to this school. I want to live in a city, he'd said last night, and be anonymous.

Ruefully Janie thought her name would give her a pretty good start if she wanted to go anonymous.

Sarah-Charlotte was hoping Reeve would ask Janie out. Sarah-Charlotte was not interested in getting her driver's license; she was interested in having a steady boyfriend, who had to be tall, handsome, muscular, smart, courteous, and rich. Reeve was all but one.

"And if Reeve doesn't ask you out," was Sarah-Charlotte's theory, "maybe his friends will."

Janie did not think the boy next door ever came through in real life. Nor would any of Reeve's friends ask her out. Last year's seniors had dated lots of younger girls. This year's seniors seemed annoyed that they had to be in the same building. And Janie felt younger than her age: she had grown later, and grown less. While Adair and Sarah-Charlotte were busy becoming sophisticated and articulate, Janie remained small. Her mother said she was cute. Janie loathed that word. Cute was for toddlers and kittens. Boys didn't date cute little girls. They dated streamlined, impressive women like Sarah-Charlotte and Adair.

Besides, how would she date?

Her parents didn't even let her go to the shopping mall alone. They'd never let her date. Alone with a boy? Hah. Not likely.

Janie waved back at Reeve and he turned to his friends, duty done. If he knew I'm really Jayyne Jonstone, she thought, would he do more than wave?

She felt curiously heavy: like the difference between whole milk and skim. Through the cafeteria windows the sun gleamed, filling the school with golden shafts in which dust swirled.

On her left—so close he was nearly in her lap—Pete drank his milk in one long swig and crushed the carton in his hand. The boys loved doing that.

If they had a soda, they stamped the can under their feet and looked proudly at the flat aluminum.

"My mother says none of them are really kidnapped anyhow," said Pete. "She says it's all hype."

It took Janie several seconds to realize he was talking about the face on the milk carton. "What do you mean?" she said. She ate her peanut butter sandwich. Almost anything with peanut butter was excellent—peanut butter and marshmallow fluff; peanut butter and bananas—but a person needed milk to wash it down.

"All it is." said Pete firmly, "is divorce, where one parent gets mad and takes his own kid, but he doesn't tell the other parent where they're going. It's never actually a stranger stealing a kid, like on television."

"You mean they weren't really stolen?" said Sarah-Charlotte, vastly disappointed. She made several dramatic gestures. There was no room for dramatic gestures in the cafeteria, and people grabbed to save the whipped-cream towers on their Jell-O from getting splattered by Sarah-Charlotte's hands. "Nobody wants a ransom?" cried Sarah-Charlotte. "Nobody is being tortured?"

If I drink one carton of milk, Janie thought, is my allergy so serious I'll die? How boring the obituary would be: Here lies Jane Johnson. I should leave a note: Put ."Jayyne" on my stone.

Janie shook her head.

Pete and Jason immediately complained that they had gotten red hair in their faces and would Janie please get a grip on her hair.

"What do you want me to do?" demanded Janie. "Wear a net around it?"

"Either that or build an addition to the cafeteria to house it," said Peter.

Everybody giggled.

Janie shook her hair more vigorously. The boys ducked and threw potato chips at Janie, while she reached for Sarah-Charlotte's milk and drank it up.

Perfect meal. Peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk. Janie set the carton down and sighed with pleasure.

The little girl on the back of the carton stared back at her.

It wasn't much of a picture. After all, how good could a picture be when it was printed on a milk carton?

"You ready for that algebra test?" Jason asked Adair.

"I was ready till I ate cafeteria food. Do you think he'll let me out of the test if I have food poisoning?"

The girl on the carton was an ordinary little girl. Hair in tight pigtails, one against each thin cheek. A dress with a narrow white collar. The dress was white with tiny dark polka dots.

Something evil and thick settled on Janie, blocking her throat, dimming her eyes. "Sarah-Charlotte," she said. She could hear herself shouting Sarah-Charlotte's name, yet her lips were not moving; she was making no sound at all.

She reached toward Sarah-Charlotte s sleeve, but her hand didn't obey. It lay motionless on top of the carton. It looked like somebody else's hand; she could not imagine herself wearing that shade of nail polish, or that silly ring.

"You drank my milk," accused Sarah-Charlotte.

"It's me on there," Janie whispered. Her head hurt. Was the milk allergy already setting in? Or was she going insane? Could you go insane this fast? Surely it took years to lose your mind.

She imagined people losing their minds the way you might lose a penny, or your car keys—accidentally dropping your mind in the cafeteria.

"On where?" said Peter.

"The girl on the back of the carton," whispered Janie. How flat her voice sounded. As if she had ironed it. "It's me."

She remembered that dress . . . how the collar itched . . . remembered the fabric; it was summer fabric; the wind blew through it . . . remembered how those braids swung like red silk against her cheeks.

"I know you're sick of school," said Sarah-Charlotte, "but claiming to be kidnapped is going a little too far, Janie."

Pete retrieved his flattened milk and tried to shape it back into a carton. He read between the folds. "You were stolen ten years ago from a shopping center in New Jersey, Janie. What are you doing here?"

"Yeah," said Adair, giggling. "Why aren't you off yelling for the police?"

"Oh, she's just trying to get out of reading her essay," said Jason.

"No, she's just trying to steal my milk," said Sarah-Charlotte.

The bell rang. The others hurled their garbage toward the huge plastic-lined trash cans by the door, and missed. Ducking under the plump arms of the lunch ladies, they raced back to class instead of picking it up.

Janie held Sarah-Charlotte's empty milk carton and stared at the photograph of the little girl.

I was kidnapped.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 603 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(405)

4 Star

(109)

3 Star

(38)

2 Star

(22)

1 Star

(29)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 607 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Wow, amazing book! If you like suspenseful books then this book is right for you!

    Wow, i had to read this book for school and at first i thought it would be boring but as we read it in class it changed my mind. I hated when ELA class was over because then we had to stop reading. This book is suspensful and very addicting. I am 12 years old, in 7th grade, and i never read a better mystery book than this one. I highly recommend this book to everyone with the exception of kids under 10. There might be some words in here they might not know and there are some things in here that i dont think they should know until they are teens. Anyway i think this book deserves nothing less than 5 stars and if i could go up to 10 stars then believe me i would!

    30 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    the face on the milk carton review

    This book was SO addictive. It was the best book I've ever read! The good thing about this amazing book is that the book ends with a big cliff hanger leading on to another book which makes me excited to read on. I think that Caroline B. Cooney did an amazing job writing this book. It could be used for educational purposes or just for fun. I strongly recommend this book to anybody who is ready to be caught reading the best book ever who is from the 6th grade-anybody who is interested. I also recommend this book to people who are getting caught and bored in the introduction who need an exciting start. The title relates very well to the book an made me read through to find out how it related.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Luv

    I luuuuuuvvvvvvvvvvv this book!!!!!!!! Janie is just absent minded girl when boom! She seea her face on a milk carton; no, she thinks tht cant b me!... but she doesnt really believe tht and so she bcame obsessed. Finally getting to bcome the gf of the boy shes allways believ she luved who is paitient but hungry 4 sex.... While her life changes rite b4 her eys. (12+)

    9 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2012

    Meh.

    This story had so much potential. The whole kidnapping thing was a great hook. Sadly the story line was executed poorly. The author kept straying away from the actual kidnapping making you question the focus of the book. The characters had no development what so ever. The relationship between the main character & Reeve needed more depth. The only reason I give this book 2 stars rather than 1 is because the plot was very original.

    7 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON REVIEW

    The Face on the Milk Carton was a great book. At first, I was forced to read it, but as i started absorbing it, I started reading it as if it was my choice. For a girl that doesnt like to read very much, that is a pretty high praise. Adventure, mystery, and romance, were the perfect ingredients for the meal I like to call The Face on the Milk Carton. In the book, Janie found a photograph; her as a young girl, on the front of a milk carton. How could that be? I knew that she Janie had a great relationship with her "parents". It was obvious that they loved her and she loved them back, so I didn't understand. But ignoring the subject didn't help Janie. She couldn't get the thought out of her head! I think that it would one of the hardest things to ask my mom and dad if they had kidnapped me. But Janie had to do it. When she approached her parents about it, they told her a story that they THOUGHT was the answer. Janie believed her parents, but it just didn't make sense. Why would she be missing? She went on a romantic search with her trusting neighbor Reeve, to find the true answer to her life's mystery. Caroline B. Cooney explained the events very well. The ending will shock you and you won't be to wait till your parents take you to get the next one. What did Janie really find? Read the rest find out.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2013

    Great book

    It the same thing as swiched at birth.

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2010

    You got to know about this book!!

    My Book Review:
    The book Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney was an ok book. It was an easy read about a girl who sees what she thinks is herself on a milk cartoon. The only reason she could have been on the milk carton was if she was kidnapped and her real name is Jennie Springs and not Janie Johnson. The book is about her finding clues to see if that was her and trying to solve the mystery. I did not like the ending. I think that the author could have added a little more to that. The plot of the story was not impressing. It had a nice idea but there wasn't a lot of good descriptive show not tell writing. This book did not impress me and I think sixth graders can write the same way maybe some even better.

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2009

    Potential, and put my expectations for the rest of the series way below. But in a weird way, i still wanted (and did) to read the next 3 books in the series!

    I'll start out by saying this had A LOT of potential! I haven't read many kidnapping books and thought this would be a new idea that would grasp me and keep me reading the series. Well, it didn't grasp me, but i still read the rest of the series. The thing that bugged me most was Hannah, the real kidnapper. They kept going on and on about her and back to her yet again. They would think over and over, "Oh, Hannah, why did you do this to us?" It got on my nerves very much-but somehow, I kept reading. And reading. And reading. I really expected a lot from this book, but then after reading the first book, set my expectations VERY low for the next books.
    I would say, you can go ahead and try this book, because it was heading towards the right direction (and then crashed)and you might find the plot interesting. I wouldn't really recommend this book or the rest of the series, becasue it bored me. It had potential, but surely did not reach to it's fullest.

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2013

    I like this book

    I like this book because it is romantic and mystery and it just get you wanting to read the next series. I suggest "READ THIS BOOK" including if you like romance and mystery.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2012

    Hi

    I didn't read on the nook but on paper back. It was good

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    Love the book

    Love the book it has romace mystery put together into one and never judge a book bye its cover even this book cause it looka creapy but it is not also read the back of the book first!!!! Dont read this book if u r not a teen it has to much romace for yunger ages

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    Inappropriate

    VERY inappropriate. Good plot but could have benn ALOT better. Would not recommend to anyone under age 15

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    Two words

    Great book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    Great

    Awesome mystery!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013

    Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood so good all five stars all

    Great

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    Loved it

    Omg this was the first book were i actully didnt fall asleep on i was suprize and this was the first book i ever liked if u havent read this book u would want to its good peace outttt

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    Sounds good

    I havent read it yet but it sounds really good

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    want it

    all my friends have read this book. i really want to read this. it now is put in my wishlist

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    A Good Story and Worth Reading

    Janie shes her face on the milk carton and doesn't even know she was kidnapped. Great twist to a story of interest from the child (now 16 years old) point of view. I enjoyed the discoveries with the character and I want to read more. Thankfully there are more stories in the series which I hope to read also.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2012

    So good

    I read this in two days. This is one of my all time favs. My others are delirium (big recomandaton) uhlies series hunger games star chasers ann etc

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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