Book Nostalgia: The Face on the Milk Carton
By Lauren on July 26th, 2012
Read on for another look back into the past! This week, I chose to reread an old favorite: The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
I can still tell you where the Caroline B. Cooney books in the Chappaqua Library live—in the back across from the A/V section, on the bottom two shelves. When I was a kid my dad would take me to the library on Tuesday nights. He’d read photography magazines and I’d find new books to check out. During that time I got to know the librarians pretty well and they got to know which novels would keep me occupied for hours. One such book recommended to me was the completely engrossing story of a young girl who discovers a ‘missing persons’ ad of herself on the back of a milk carton. The book started my love affair with Caroline B. Cooney’s work and it became one of my absolute favorites growing up. As you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to reread The Face on the Milk Carton for book nostalgia.
Just to recap: During a normal lunch in her high school cafeteria, 15 year-old Janie Johnson’s life is forever changed when she discovers a missing person’s photo on the back of a milk carton. She recognizes the red pigtails, and can feel the scratchy lace collar of the polka-dotted dress against her skin. She is sure the girl in the photo is her. At first she can’t believe it, but as she and her neighbor Reeve dig deeper into the past, Janie begins to remember places and people from her childhood and she’s forced to confront an enormous mystery: who am I?
After revisiting The Face on the Milk Carton: I have to admit I was worried that one of my old favorites wouldn’t stand the test of time. The The Face on the Milk Carton was first published well before the internet (in 1990…Facebook wouldn’t exist for another 14 years). I wondered how Janie’s quest for answers would feel now that information is so regularly available at our finger tips. If this book came out today, Janie would have googled the Spring family or searched the online database for missing children. Despite my trepidation, I am happy to report that the book completely held up and is still as compulsively readable as it was when I first read it. Once again, I devoured it in one sitting, unable to put it down every time I tried. Cooney does great job of making Janie’s struggle and her search for answers timeless and even realistic. I also appreciated many of the little details I had forgotten, like in the opening scene, Janie laments that she has such a boring name and starts to create a more exciting identity for herself, assigning different personalities to each new moniker. I was surprised how much I still connected with Janie and her friends. The scenes of her group and their lunch periods in the cafeteria are particularly well-drawn and made me nostalgic for high school. The best part of this whole experience though, was realizing now something I hadn’t quite grasped when I was a young reader, The Face on the Milk Carton, is a really great coming-of-age story masked by a compelling plot. So much of Janie’s journey is about figuring out who she is and struggling to see where she fits in. Those are issues any teen can identify with.
What childhood books do you want to go back and reread? Let us know in the comments!
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