Book: Janie Face to Face (Janie Johnson)
Author: Caroline B. Cooney
Age Range: 12 and up
I spent the Christmas holiday this year immersed in the world of Janie Johnson. I had read The Face on the Milk Carton a while back (and clearly remember seeing the movie), but read it again after running across a library copy. Then, knowing that I had the final book in the series waiting for me at home, I picked up the other 3 books on Kindle, and gulped them all down quickly. So, I was completely primed for the final book, Janie Face to Face. I thought that Cooney did well in wrapping up the series, and also providing a book that was suspenseful in its own right.
While one could probably read Janie Face to Face without having read the other books in the series, I wouldn't recommend it. This is a book that was clearly written to give closure to long-time fans of the series. This review will contain spoilers for the earlier books (at least the first book).
Janie Face to Face is told from multiple viewpoints, but primarily those of Janie and her kidnapper. Several years after finding her own face on a milk carton, and learning that she was kidnapped at age three, Janie Johnson starts college in New York. In an effort to put her complicated past behind her, Janie doesn't tell her new friends anything about her kidnapping. She goes by Jane instead of Janie, in an effort to avoid recognition. She alternates weekend visits between her birth family and her "kidnap family", but allows people to think that she has two families because of a divorce. Janie's past intrudes anyway, however, when she and her families receive letters from a true crime writer, indicating that the writer is going to do a book on Janie's story.
The chapters depicting Janie's college life are interspersed with chapters told from Hannah's perspective, titled "The First Piece of the Kidnapper's Puzzle", "The Second Piece of the Kidnapper's Puzzle", etc. The Hannah chapters reveal that Janie's ordeal may not be over. They also, for the first time in the series, reveal the depth of Hannah's pathology. Hannah's bitterness towards both her own parents and Janie, and her unwillingness to take personal responsibility for her own life, come through again and again. Like this:
"Frank was probably lavishing money on that little girl. But would he pay Hannah's bills? No! She would have to get a job. And that had never worked for her. She was too fragile." (Page 67)
"It's her fault! thought Hannah. She kept the rage out of her voice. "I'll call again," said Hannah smoothly. "Good afternoon."
"Thank you for calling," said the sweet little voice of the vicious little parent thief." (Page 162)
Other sections crop up from the viewpoint of other characters, including Janie's best friend from high school, Janie's siblings, and Janie's one-time boyfriend, Reeve. These sections give insight into the impact that Janie has had on the people around her, as well as on the current danger facing Janie. I especialy liked that Cooney took the time in this book to delve into the character of Janie's brother Brendan, scarcely mentioned in the earlier books. Certain chilling parallels between Brendan's thinking and Hannah's even emerge.
Overall, the perspective shifts add tension to the book, and require the reader to pay close attention. Like the other books in the series, this is one that fans will want to read in a single sitting, constantly turning the pages to find out what will happen to Janie next. Without going into detail, I will say that Cooney wraps up the story nicely at the end, in a manner that I think fans will find satisfactory.
The downside for me of reading all of the books in a very short time period was that I did notice a couple of inconsistencies. But these were very minor. And I thought that author and publisher did a good job of overcoming the inherent inconsistency, that the first book was originally published more than 20 years before the final book, though only five years elapse in story time. There's a reference in Janie Face to Face to how amazing it was that Janie and Reeve didn't even have cell phones five years earlier, and had to call home from a payphone. Cell phones didn't really pop up quite that quickly, but still, it's nice that they made the effort.
Janie Face to Face feels utterly contemporary, with Facebook posts playing a major role in the mystery. And, in fact, this plot line may encourage teen readers to think twice about posting every detail of their lives on a platform that those with ill intent might be able to access.
The notion that a teenager might awaken to find that she isn't who she always thought she was remains endlessly appealing for kids. The fact that Cooney explores this idea using realistic fiction (vs. the many authors who tackle this theme via fantasy) makes the Janie Johnson series particularly difficult to resist. I found Janie Face to Face to be a solid ending to an enjoyable series, with a nice mix of sentiment and suspense. Recommended!
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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