Who Are You Really? (The Face on the Milk Carton – A Book Review)

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

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Published: 1990

On Goodreads

My Rating:

Rated A for an anxiety-driven thriller that runs amuck.

Inside, her mind spun. It was like having a color wheel for a brain. When it slowed down, things were separate, like primary colors:

 I have a mother and father…I have a childhood…I was not kidnapped…kidnapping means bad people…I don’t know any bad people…therefore I am making this up.

Janie was just a typical teenager. And then she saw her photo on the back of a milk carton. Her life begins to take a downward spiral as she tries to discover the truth about herself. Distorted memories plague her. If the people who raised her aren’t her parents, who are they? Unfortunately, the more she learns the more she wishes she’d never seen the picture at all. But it’s too late.

This is a book from my bookish resolution.

Imagine how startling and scary it would be to see your photo on a missing persons poster. That’s what happened to Janie. Granted this book takes place when missing children were put on milk cartons. The more she dug in her heels about this the more she wished she hadn’t. She was learning how to drive. She was finally dating the cute boy next door.  

This book is definitely one of those that was a part of the English curriculum when my brother was in school. I know a couple people I knew back in middle school had to read this too. I figured it’s one I could knock out to say I read it. I didn’t expect to be anything special, but it was pretty good. There were several moments that had me holding on until the end. Since this was a quick read, that was okay.

Janie has quite a lush life with such sweet and doting parents. It’s quiet the dream. When it turned into a nightmare that had her clamoring for answers the book got intense. From searching for a birth certificate to uncovering dark secrets in the attic and taking a road trip. Janie’s journey was a neurotic one. Cooney took on all of the scary emotions that come with searching and discovering one’s identity and added trauma on top like it was a cherry.

What makes this book so scary is that this could happen and has. It’s not unrealistic. It’s also what made this so heartbreaking. Many lives were shattered by the end. So, I couldn’t blame Janie for going off the deep end. Everything she knew wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t a truth either. It was a mess that left her questioning everything.


I did get a giggle out of Hare Krishna being called a cult in the book. For what I’ve researched—just to be sure I had my facts straight since I’d studied this a long time ago—Hare Krishna is a part of Hindu religion. Those who devote themselves to it believe that humans live a countless eternity through reincarnation and take the laws of karma into account for how one comes back in the next life. Honestly, that’s not too shabby and almost beautiful. There’s a lot of dedication that needs to be made to this however. But yes, this was called out as a cult in the book and I couldn’t stop the eruption of giggles.


This was a good but quick read. I won’t say it’s a favorite, but I don’t regret the time that went into this. I have a couple of the others in this series and will continue to see how Janie’s story unravels. Though mystery doesn’t capture me, I am enjoying what a thriller this is. Cooney did a masterful job of garnering the terror of kidnapping and the destruction of lives, but also left that little spark of healing like this was Pandora’s Box. Quite impressive.


“I know you’re sick of school, but claiming to be kidnapped is going a little too far, Janie.” (Sarah-Charlotte to Janie, p. 11)

“A silence as long as some lives.” (p. 80)

“You know what would be exciting now? Dinner. I am absolutely starving. Nothing builds an appetite like trauma.” (Mr. Johnson, p. 88)

More to come soon…                                                                                               


Song Today? It Doesn’t Matter by Alison Krauss & Union Station.

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