Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source: Netgalley eARC
Publication date: January 8, 2013
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
In the final installment of the Face on the Milk Carton series, Janie is twenty, a sophomore in college, and trying to put the kidnapping behind her. She’s made amends with her New Jersey family, while her “kidnap” family has wasted away – her kidnap father Frank has had a stroke and can barely communicate, and her kidnap mother Miranda has moved into a nursing home with him.
Janie feels that she’s trying to decide between her two families forever. Meanwhile, there’s a true crime writer who is trying to get the whole family to open up about the kidnapping so that he can write the ultimate bestseller. And we finally get a glimpse into the mind of Hannah Javensen, the kidnapper.
The book shifts between Janie, her family and friends, and Hannah’s points of view, giving fans a true conclusion to the story.
This is the fifth and final book in The Face on the Milk Carton series. I read the first one way back in 4th or 5th grade, and I’ve read every book since. The basic premise is that Janie Johnson is a regular 15-year old girl who recognizes herself on the back of a milk carton as a missing child one day. Shocked, she’s not sure what to do. Her parents are awesome, and she’s really happy – so how could she have been kidnapped? What she decides to do with this information is the premise of the first book. and her decisions (and the decisions of others around her) pave the way for the rest of the series.
I felt like the plotting of this final installment could have used a lot of work. A lot of it felt too fast, kind of dialed in. A commenter on another review said that she felt like the author had “fanfic’d” her own characters. That’s exactly how I felt about it – it was as if Cooney desperately wanted to give her characters a happy ending, no matter what. But I thought the strength of the other four books was allowing Janie to have some closure without a happy ending or an easy fix. The brilliance of books two, three, and four was the unresolved nature of the crime, and how people deal with it.
The writing in Janie Face to Face is really not great, and I felt that the characters were kind of flat. They basically said exactly what they thought – there wasn’t any subtlety to it.
That said, the writing reminds me SO much of the writing from The Face on the Milk Carton. It was a true blast from the past, and I have to say that I appreciate an author who can still pull that off 15-20 years later.
Somehow, despite the writing, I did eventually get into the book. Cooney’s strength is her ability to tap into the emotions of characters. They actually did feel real to me, if not at all subtle. They’re all still idiots and emotional wrecks, and man, is Janie whiny, but the author FULLY ADMITS that she is. She is what her sister Jodie calls her: a kidnapette. She’s high-maintenance and fragile and messes up a lot. She’s a princess whose whole life was completely ruined by this. And because of that, she’s an emotional disaster.
(minor spoilers from here on in)
This is not what I would call exemplary behaviour. But Janie is desperate to feel like she belongs somewhere, desperate to feel loved, and desperate to rid herself of being a kidnap victim.
In this book, Cooney pulls back the curtain and reveals Hannah, the kidnapper, in all of her crazy glory. And man, is she crazy. Like I said, I felt that there was no subtlety to any of the characters – Hannah, in particular, struck me as a very typical psychopath.
Weirdly, the way that Cooney shifts between Janie and Hannah’s perspectives made me see just how messed up they BOTH are. I don’t know if that was intentional, but the similarities were interesting: They both make rash decisions based on what they want, without thinking about the people around them. The difference is that Janie follows up those decisions with some real emotional depth and realizations of what she’s done. Hannah is unremorseful.
I don’t want to spoil anything else right now, especially because this series has been so many years in the making. Even though I didn’t feel it was well done, as a fan of the Janie series, I definitely felt like I got the conclusion that I wanted in the end. Maybe that’s all that matters?
The Final Word
Hard-core fans of the Janie series will want to read this just to know how it all ends. And trust me, you will feel like you’ve gotten the ending you deserve. =)