The Face on the Milk Carton

Book Report

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

The author

Caroline Cooney was born in 1947 and grew up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. An excellent student and ambitious youth, she loved school and was involved in many different activities. By the time she was in tenth grade, Cooney played the piano for musical productions, directed a choir, and had a job as a church organist. Always an avid reader, Cooney often read series books such as The Hardy Boys and Cherry Ames. These characters had a big influence on her life and in fact, she says "Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, was my reason to go to nursing school in Boston later in life."

Cooney graduated from Greenwich High School in 1965 and attended various colleges, where she studied music, art, and English. It was in college that she began writing, and discovered a talent and joy in what would become an award - winning writing career. Cooney professes, "I love writing and do not know why it is considered such a difficult, agonizing profession. I love all of it, thinking up the plots, getting to know the kids in the story, their parents, backyards, pizza toppings."

Cooney's love of writing for young adults is clearly demonstrated in her numerous celebrated novels including: Driver's Ed (An ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults, and a Booklist Editors' Choice), Among Friends (A New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age), Twenty Pageants Later (An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers), and the time travel novels, Both Sides of Time and Out of Time. She is a master of mixing spellbinding suspense with thought - provoking insight into teenagers' lives.

Among Cooney's most popular books are the bestselling novels "The Face on the Milk Carton" and "Whatever Happened to Janie?". To satisfy the hundreds of fans wanting to know more, Cooney continues Janie's captivating story with, "The Voice on the Radio", a gripping novel of betrayal.

Being an accomplished writer, author, and mother of three children, Caroline Cooney shares her knowledge and love of writing on visits to schools, libraries and conferences. She lives in Westbrook, Connecticut.

Characterization of the most important persons

Janie Johnson

Janie Johnson is a fifteen year - old girl. She is pretty with a wild, chaotic mane of red curls glinting gold. Janie is in a difficult age. She is searching for her own identity. Janie does not have any brothers and sisters. She would like to have a boy - friend, but she does not know how to find one (in the beginning of the book) because her parents are very strict. She is not allowed to go out alone in the evening.
Janie is a curious girl. She wants to know everything and to find out everything. On the whole, she lives a happy life with her parents - until one day! She has a lot of friends and she does not have a lot of problems. Like every teenager, she loves talking on the phone.
Later on you realize how important it is for this girl to find out the truth. She has a special problem with her identity. She is not just a youngster but she does not really know who she is.


Reeve is seventeen years old and Janie’s neighbor. He goes to the same school as Janie does. He has already his driving licence and he often takes Janie to school or home. He has two older sisters and one older brother. He plays an important role in this book because he becomes Janie’s boy - friend who tries to manage her problem. He supports Janie being a very caring person but he has his own opinion. Through the whole book, he knows what he wants and he knows how to reach his aim. Reeve likes Janie’s parents very much. He often has lunch with her family. He knows Janie and her family for a very long time.

Sarah - Charlotte

Sarah - Charlotte is in Janie’s class. She is her best friend. She has white - blonde hair and according to the descriptions in the book, she is a pretty girl. Like Janie, she loves talking on the phone and her line is often busy. For her, boys play a very important role in her life. She is interested in having a steady relationship with a boy who has to be tall, muscular, smart, courteous, and rich. She supports Janie, she is a good friend, but she does not believe everything that other persons - for example Janie - tell her.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are Janie’s parents. They are very caring parents and they love Janie very much. When Janie is out, her mother is always scared. She always wants to know where Janie is. She never allows her daughter to go to the shopping mall alone. Her parents both work during the whole day. Mrs. Johnson works in a hospital and Mr. Johnson in an office. For them, their daughter is the most important treasure, they give her everything they can, but not enough liberty. They are rather old compared with other parents of children in Janie’s age.


"The Face on the Milk Carton" is about a fifteen year - old girl baptized Jane and called Janie. She lives a normal life with her parents Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Janie has got a lot of friends, her best friend is Sarah - Charlotte Sherwood. For Janie, her neighbor Reeve plays another important role in her life. They know each other for a long time and their parents are friends, too. The relationship between Reeve’s and Janie’s parents is almost like a relationship between mother, father and children. They know each other very well and Reeve often stays at the Johnson’s house. Like every normal teenager, Janie goes to school. She goes to the same school as Reeve and so he takes her to school fairly often. Janie would like to have a boy - friend, she would like to meet other boys but she is not allowed to because her parents are very careful. Her mother is really scared if Janie stays out longer. Her life is pretty normal till one day.

Janie is sitting in the school cafeteria with her friends Adair, Sarah - Charlotte, Jason, and Pete at the table. They are having lunch together. Janie is very thirsty and even though she has an allergy against milk, she takes a bit of Sarah - Charlotte’s. This moment changes her life completely. On the milk carton, she sees a little three year - old girl with hair in tight pigtails, one against each thin cheek. The words on the carton say this girl is missing for a long time. She wears a dress with a narrow white collar. Janie believes that it is her own picture on the milk carton. She thinks that she really has recognized her own face in the milk carton. What had happened, when she was a kid? She does not know what to do and what to say. So she speaks out what she is thinking. But her friends do not believe her. Jane Johnson has a lovely home and nice parents, too. It cannot be true. Even Janie cannot believe it but she also cannot forget it. She thinks about it all day and all night, too. She cannot sleep because she does not know the truth but she wants to find it out as soon as possible. The first thing she wants to see is her birth - certificate. She informs her mother that she will not get her driver’s licence without the birth - certificate. But her mother cannot give it to her because it is at the bank. Her daughter does not know what to believe. In a way, she distrusts her mother. She has so many questions but she does not know anybody she could talk to. During the night, Janie often has nightmares and in the day she sometimes has even daydreams.

She does not know who she is: the fifteen year - old Jane Johnson or the fourteen year - old girl Jeannie Spring. When is her day of birth? There is only one person she trusts: Reeve. She likes him very much and the relationship between the two neighbors starts. Jane tells him the whole story but Reeve does not guess that this story could be true. He knows her parents for a long time and he is sure that her parents never could kidnap a child.

When her parents are out, Jane climbs up to the attic where she finds different things. For example she finds the dress that was printed on the milk carton. Furthermore she finds a picture of a girl called Hannah. Who is Hannah? She tells Reeve what she has found out and his boy - friend telephones his sister Lizzie who will be an attorney later on. She knows the Johnsons fairly well and he is sure that these people never could do such a thing. But she speculates that Hannah could play a role in this case.

Janie wants to know who Hannah is and she asks her parents. She is really worried about the situation - she is unable to eat. Her parents tell her the story about Hannah. She is their real daughter who went to join a cult when she was sixteen. She wished to become a member of the Hare Krishna. She disappeared and her parents did not see her for a long time. But one day Hannah stood in front of the door with a little girl, Jane. She had married the guru and now she wanted to save the child. She just brought it to her parents. Her parents were really happy about the child because they had lost their own daughter. After this conversation, Janie feels relieved. She loves her "parents" very much and she would not want to see them jailed for kidnapping. But she wants to find out something about the Springs. So she convinces Reeve next day to drive to New Jersey instead of going to school. They find out that the Springs really live there, they really exist, and from the window of the car she sees her "brothers" who have the same read hair as her.

Janie is unhappy about the situation but she is scared of asking her parents what really happened. She writes everything down in her notebook. Reeve cannot support the situation. He wants to speak to her parents, to find out the truth. Finally he leaves Janie and finds another girl. Janie realizes that she has to find out the truth and asks Reeve to help her. When Janie talks to her parents she gets to know that they did not want to call the police because they needed her so much. They also did not want to believe that Hannah had kidnapped a little girl. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson want to call her real parents. Janie is in a difficult situation. She loves her parents and she belongs to them but these people are not her real parents and she would like to get to know Mr. and Mrs. Springs. So in the end she dials the number and she is very scared of what might come.

The structure of the novel

the book "The Face on the Milk Carton" is divided into eighteen chapters. The sentences are pretty short ant not very complicated. The narrator of the book is an observant narrator. There are no special flashbacks in the book as the main character Janie does not remember what happened to her in the past. This novel is written in past tense (and in present tense for the dialogues). There are many dialogues that show the character’s emotions pretty well.


The style of the novel is pretty easy, There are a lot of dialogues and the language is not very difficult to understand. When you read the book, you realize that it is American English. There are some words that are typical for youngsters and for this reason you do not understand every single word. But the whole content can easily be understood.

An Interview with Caroline B. Cooney

What inspired you to write the first Janie novel?

"I was inspired to write The Face on the Milk Carton because of an hour I spent waiting in LaGuardia airport and on this day, the entire concourse was plastered with homemade missing child poster - - hundreds of them. And each one had a small picture of a tiny child maybe 2 years old and the typing underneath said that she had been missing for 15 years. And the first thing I thought of were the parents who got up that morning after 15 years and went into New York with their stack of posters, still hoping that if a 1/2 million people came through this New York airport, one of them would recognize that picture and tell them where that little girl is. But the second thing I thought of was no, that is not going to happen, it's a futile hope. because you cannot recognize someone 15 years later from her 2 year old picture and I got on the plane weeping for those parents and realized that, of
course, one person probably would recognize the picture. And that would be the little girl herself.
And I knew that would be a wonderful premise for a suspense novel - - that you'd recognize yourself on a missing child poster."

What kind of response have you seen from people who have seen the film or read the book?

"The people who have seen the film went straight to read the book and the people who read the book wanted the film to include more. Since they used both books in one relatively short film, they had to leave out all of the subplots. So what I mainly heard from kids is - - 'but they left out this, but they left out that' but they all loved the film."

Have you ever had any responses, personal experiences that have been reflected in your writing?

"Well, I used to say when I addressed schools that kidnapping really never happens, it's extremely rare statistically. Most missing children are, in fact, just wandered away for the afternoon or they're actually with a relative and we know where they are. I stopped saying that when I found that I was addressing one school where indeed there had been a kidnapping by a stranger in that town. So now I never even assume that I can safely say
that. That was very disturbing to all of us because the kids all raised their hands - - 'No, Mrs. Cooney, it does happen. It happened right here.' It was awful, actually."

When you finished writing "The Face on the Milk Carton", did you know immediately that you were going to continue Janie's story?

"I was never going to continue Janie's story. The Face on the Milk Carton is a book about worry. It's a book about years and years of worry. And, in fact, I ended it on purpose so that the reader would have to go on worrying. And I knew that I had pulled it off when I got hundreds of letters from kids saying 'you call that an ending. You should have had another chapter. At the very least you'd better write a sequel right now'. And they used to append long lists of what should be answered in a sequel. But I did not intend to write a sequel because I wanted them to go on worrying just the way those real life parents had to go on worrying. And of course everyone knows, including the kid, that if in the first book you find out you have a second family, in the second book you will have to decide with whom to live. And I found that so horrifying a thought that I never wanted to approach the book. But, my daughter Sayre, who at that time was sort of my at - home editor just hopped up off the couch one day and she said, 'Mom, I know what happened at the end of The Face on the Milk Carton.' And she did, so I wrote the sequel."

So tell us about your newest novel "The Voice on the Radio". What inspired it?

"Well, if I never intended to write a first sequel to "The Face on the Milk Carton", I certainly never intended to write a third. But I had been thinking a lot about talk radio and talk television and some particularly horrible events that occurred when the host of a talk show forced action upon people who were guests on her show. And the essential
amorality of it really stuck with me that you go on these shows in order to sell other people's personal secrets as casually as if you were selling a vacuum cleaner. And that week I happened to be up visiting my son Harold in college in Boston and he was very involved with his college radio station. And as I watched him in this radio station and all the other boys and how ardently they approached their own little station and their own part in it, I thought what if Reeve goes to college, gets involved with a talk radio station just like this and retells Janie's story as casually and as with little thought as everyone does when they get into talk shows. And not only is he totally betraying her and both those families and everything he has been brought up to be but what if then the kidnapper calls in. So it's now irrevocably opened."

Source: Internet: Feature of the week.

My own response to the novel

I liked reading "The Face on the Milk Carton". I was sixteen years old when I first read this book and I liked it so much that I read the book "Whatever happened to Janie", too. It is an interesting theme because in our days there are so many children who disappear and are never found again. The parents never know whether they just ran away or if they were kidnapped. This book really shows the problems you have to face in such a situation when you discover that you may once have be been kidnapped and do not live with your real parents. I chose this book because I really like the subject and I like Caroline B. Cooney as an author. It is a book about worry but I enjoyed reading it.


    What would you do if you were in the same situation as Janie? What do you think will happen to Janie? Do you think it is possible that you recognize yourself on a photo which is older than 12 years when you have never seen a picture of yours in this age?

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