Over the DePaul summer term, the CMWR held a weekly Book Club in collaboration with the English Language Academy, and our selection was the teen-fiction thriller The Face on the Milk Carton, the first installment of a four-part series and the subsequent inspiration for a TV-movie adaptation. The students enjoyed the book and our discussions were interesting, but the CMWR staff was a bit less… enthusiastic in our reviews. Nathalia Oliveira and Ali DeChancie of the CMWR each wrote a review of the book, partly as a way to analyze some of the author’s literary choices from opposing perspectives, and partly as a way to settle our differences with the book and just become casual acquaintances.
|Nathalia says:“About as Tasteful as Sour Milk”
In a way, Caroline B. Cooney’s The Face on the Milk Carton deserves some credit: twenty years after its publication, audiences continue to be captivated by heroine Janie Johnson when she discovers her face on a missing child advertisement. Cooney’s persistent cliffhanger style keeps you greedily flipping the page chapter after chapter, anxious to resolve the mystery or discover a new twist. As readers progress, however, they find themselves less invested in what seemed like a promising story of suspense and more ensnarled by kitschy lunch table dialogue and creepy romances with the older boy next door. I am hard-pressed, actually, to decide which of the following is more offensive: is it Cooney’s labeling of the peaceful 5,000 year old religious tradition Hare Krishna as a depraved and dangerous cult? Or is it Cooney’s tenacity to wring painfully uncomfortable romantic subplots dry for the purpose of inserting more chapters between an enthralling beginning and the anticlimactic and unsatisfying conclusion? Startlingly, however, somewhere between Cooney’s extended milk metaphors and Reeve’s unabashed libido in response to Janie’s identity crisis, I find myself wondering a little bit about what actually happens to Janie. Fortunately for us, master of suspense Cooney has already proposed an answer in her next installment of the four-book franchise, What Ever Happened to Janie?
|Ali says: “How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Write a Book Review”
The Face on the Milk Carton grabs your attention from the beginning and then teases your curiosity and patience until the rather anticlimactic ending. The content of the book may not be the most politically correct—as argued by Nathalia—but the narrative is what makes it hold its own as a well-read teen fiction staple. The voice of the main character Janie Johnson keeps the tone readable and relatable. We follow Janie’s perspective throughout the novel, which allows us to understand the internal struggle she has with her conscience as the plot unfolds. Her fear, confusion, impulses and gut reactions—we’re right there with her through it all, and this was precisely the goal of author Caroline Cooney. The fact that we can’t separate our own judgment from Janie’s sense of the world is critical in the book’s design: we only know what Janie herself knows, and thus we build a strong personal connection to the book’s main character. It’s impossible to read the book without caring for Janie’s wellbeing, and as Cooney slowly unravels the mystery of Janie’s kidnapping we keep turning the pages. With Cooney’s tense representation of the struggles of an adolescent identity crisis, and with the ease in which we may sink into Janie’s high school world, she gives us a character that holds our focus through the meandering yet suspense-driven plot.