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

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

4.4 615
by Caroline B. Cooney

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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.…  See more details below


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 Janie's parents? And if not, who is Janie Johnson, and what really happened?

From the Paperback edition.

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

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Janie Johnson Series , #1
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Face on the Milk Carton (Janie Johnson Series #1) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 615 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
XXXOOOBookwormOOOXXX More than 1 year ago
She did everything fifteen-year-olds usually do. Then one day, something out of the ordinary happened. Janie came across a picture of a missing child on the side of her friend's milk carton. She looked closer and began to realize that the little girl was actually her. Over time, the clues start to piece together. Memories come back to Janie in "Daymares". She starts to worry that her parents might not really be her parents after all. She wonders if the people that brought her up had kidnapped her. She doesn't want to believe it, and tries to forget it all, but the clues keep coming and she keeps seeing memories. Suddenly, Janie's life isn't so normal anymore. Her friends notice that something is wrong, but Janie won't tell anyone what's going on. She decides to do some research of her own to get to the bottom of this, leading up to the suspenseful ending. I would definitely recommend this book to all teenage readers. There is always something exciting happening, which made me want to read more every time. I enjoyed reading about people my age and being able to relate to some things. It kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire book. It was always unpredictable what would happen next. I liked this book because it was suspenseful and action packed. I've never wondered what it would be like to not know where I came from, and if my parents were really who I think they are.  The romance with Reeve was a bit random. I liked him, but it was almost insta-love/convenient plot twist. The other characters weren't that important in my mind. They were just kind of there. This was definitely Janie's story. I also really liked the role her parents play. It didn't turn out the way it could have, but it does make it a bit too happy in my mind. This book is full of suspense and leaves you on the edge of your seat wanting to know. More. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a suspenseful story.   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous 5 months ago
This was an amazing story. I had to read all the books in the series. It was so interesting. Her life took a complete turn and everything changes. Great series!!
lieu2010 More than 1 year ago
Good story line This was quite an interesting story. I don't think I can write about it without giving away the story. It's more than the face on the milk carton. This is the story of Janie Johnson. A young high school girl living a good life. Adored by her parents, friends and neighbors. Life is good. One day as she is sitting in the school cafeteria chatting with her friends. She sees the picture of a little girl on the milk carton. A little girl in pigtails wearing a dress that triggers a memory. Travel with Janie as imagination, truth and lies lead to a surprising twist. I must warn you. It has a cliffhanger ending. The good news is, all 5 books in the series are available for purchase.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
VERY inappropriate. Good plot but could have benn ALOT better. Would not recommend to anyone under age 15
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome mystery!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
thewanted More than 1 year ago
I liked the book alot. it was an interesting book to read. it took a week to read for me because this was my favorite book. im already starting to read it again. its about a girl who sees heraself on a milk carton and starts questioning her self and her like. you need to read this book to find out what will happen next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I haven't read this book yet but based on the amount of good reports it makes me want to read it. Sounds vey interesting and suspensful. Now i really want to read it. P.s this is nothing like the abduction movie the abduction movie is like the face on the milk carton!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The series was amazing! You always wanted to keep reading them and neve wanted to put it down ( or at least in didnt). Truly thought it was a great book. Worth buying!
bookielover More than 1 year ago
This book was pretty good. very suspenful
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt wait to read this book! Once I had it in my hands I spent an entire day devoted to its pages. This book leaves you hungry for more. The 3 companion novels to the series are also worth reading!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book. i really didn't know that i would like it but i did!!! It was just so good it has everything that teenagers look for in a book. I like most of the characters. The thing that is so different about this book is that the head character "Janie" is just a normal teenage girl who has a very normal life until she sees her own three year old face on a friend's milk carton. Now she must uncover her past. It's a mix of Love and terrifying secrets revealed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dude I loved this book this girl janie who thinks her life is fine up until she sees herself on the back of the milk carton she wondershow its possible in this story she falls in love with her next door neighbor reeve and has to balance out her love life with the mystery on her hand which isn't easy with her sex hungry boyfriend(reeve).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have you ever been in a local newspaper? What if there was a picture of you and next to it was an article about how your parents stole you, and you didn’t actually legally belong to them? Who would you go to now? Your parents who you think stole you, or a boyfriend who doesn’t understand. The face on the milk carton was an interesting book because it didn’t have that regular children’s book plot where you have a little sibling that you hate and you’re being tormented by the popular kids. This book was completely different. This book was about a teenage girl who lives a normal life, and then all of a sudden finds out that she was stolen by her parents. The characters were clever, and so was the plot. Which is a smart thing to do in order to hook in your reader. One thing I was not really happy with was the fact that the real turning point happened too early in the book. But other than that I thought the book was a phenomenal story with twisted plots and events. The Face on the Milk Carton, By: Caroline B. Cooney
firsat More than 1 year ago
The Face on the Milk Carton is an amazing and inspiring story told about a girl who is forced to find the good in everything. After finding her picture on the back of a milk carton in her school cafeteria she finds out the dark truth about everything. Throughout the story Janie does a lot of crazy things to get her way. She goes to the measures of skipping school and lying to her parents for the first time in her life. At first she doesn't tell anyone and tries to figure everything out herself. But when it doesn't work out she has to tell the one and only person she can trust at the time. Finding hidden secrets about things she could dream of leads her to figure out her true friends. and her true parents. Caroline B. Cooney tells a great story while also tell how one teenagers life can be turned around by one small surprise. In the end Janie realizes what she really wants in life and where she really came from.
Savannahiscool More than 1 year ago
This book was ok. It wasn't an amazing book but it wasn't half bad. It's about a girl named Janie who sees her face on a milk carton in a missing children's ad. She doesn't remember being stolen but then she realizes that certain things in her life don't add up. Like why her parents don't have any baby pictures of her, why they won't give her, her birth certificate, and why she looks nothing like them. But the thing is she doesn't really want to meet her real parents. She is perfectly happy with the life and parents she had right now. Then she feels like a bad child for not wanting to see them and decides that it would be wrong not to do something knowing what she knows. She then sets out to find out her past and contact her real parents with the help of her new boyfriend. This book is good for people who like mystery and complicated plots. It gets really boring at some parts but it a little suspenceful at others.