When we first meet Janie Johnson, her biggest concerns are getting her driver’s license and changing her name. Janie Johnson is way too boring, so she’s thinking of using Jayyne Jonstone. Jayyne Jonstone, she reasons, “looks like the name you would have if you designed sequined gowns for a living, or pointed to prizes on television quiz shows.” I think it sounds like a name that would doom you to exotic dancing or a career in reality television, but whatever.
Janie’s life changes when she chugs a carton of milk at school (recently discovered lactose intolerance be damned!) and turns it over to see her own face staring back at her. Janie’s used to seeing the missing child ads that run on the milk cartons every few weeks, but this time, she recognizes those pigtails, that dress, that scratchy collar. Suddenly, her inner genealogically minded Nancy Drew is awakened, and she starts asking herself questions. Why don’t her parents have any pictures of her as a baby? Why won’t they let her see her birth certificate? Soon she’s finding excuses to use the library’s microfilm machine and driving out to New Jersey to hunt down her suspected birth family.
But in between all this hardcore sleuthing, Janie finds time for romance with her neighbor, Reeve. Reeve’s defining characteristic seems to be that he doesn’t study, then fails his classes. Their first kiss takes place while he’s wearing a beret and raking the lawn, like he’s some sort of sophisticated poet gardener. His grand romantic gesture involves renting a cheap motel room for the purposes of “learning about sex.” Yes, learning about it. What exactly does Reeve have planned? An informational powerpoint? Illustrated pamphlets? Has he hired a series of guest lecturers? Alas, we never find out, as Janie puts the kibosh on the whole thing.
Between that dreamboat and the whole are-my-parents-really-my-parents-or-are-they-my-grandparents-or-did-they-actually-kidnap-me thing, Janie has a lot on her mind. Eventually she does find out what really happened, although the book’s ending leaves us with more questions than answers. What happens with Janie’s birth family? What happens to the parents who raised her? Does Reeve keep wearing that beret? Luckily, there are two sequels: Whatever Happened to Janie? and The Voice On The Radio.
-The Face On The Milk Carton is definitely a relic of its time. So many of Janie’s problems could be solved by a quick Google search. No need for creepy stalker-ish drive-bys; a few seconds with Google Maps could tell Janie about her birth family’s house. And that’s not even getting into the whole “microfilm” thing.
-The entire concept of this book is very 1990s. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a missing child’s picture on a carton of milk (according to this site, it’s not really a thing anymore). If this book were written today, it would be called The Non-GMO Soybean Certification On the Silk Carton, and it would be an extremely boring book that no one would read.
-Jayyne Jonstone isn’t the only glamorous name Janie comes up with. The year before, she was set on naming her future children “Denim” and “Lace.” I hope Janie eventually finds her way into a job naming nail polish, because girl’s got pizzazz. Essie would be lucky to have her.
-Also of note is the movie, which stars Kellie Martin (who seemed to be everywhere in the early 90s) and Edward Herrmann, who will always and forever be Richard Gilmore in my heart. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube. You’re welcome.
Are there any books you’d like to see covered in Young Adult Education? Let us know in the comments!
Image via Better World Books