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Missing: My Interest In Finishing This Book

Posh serves up a DNF review of Caroline B. Cooney's Janie Face to Face, the final installment of The Face on the Milk Carton series.

Missing: My Interest In Finishing This Book

Here at FYA, we strive to keep our reviews honest and a little bit sassy. We always give books a fair shot, but every once in a while, a novel comes along that we just can't bring ourselves to finish reading. We try, we reeeeally do, but sometimes we are forced to resort to the DNF (Did Not Finish) Book Report. This... is one of those times.

DNF BOOK REPORT for Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

When We Broke Up: Around Page 154
I Should Have Listened To: My 2010 Self
How Purple Is Your Prose: Phoned In
Anti-Bonus Factors: Stupid Assholes, Sexism
Restraining Order Status: Just in Case

Let's Judge A Book By Its Cover: 

It's not particularly terrible, but I'm confused about who the two girls (?) are in the photo. Are they supposed to represent the two identities of Janie? If so, why aren't they both doing her signature jazz hands? Maybe the other Janie (Jennie Spring) is over the whole spirit fingers thing. After all, they've been featured on three of her series covers.

This kind of spirit NEVER EXPIRES!

Unlock the key to that cheer spirit!

Hello? Janie's jazz hands are calling, and they want to get you PUMPED UP 2 THE MAX.

Spirit fingers aside, the weird thing about all of the (most recent) Janie series covers is that they're more suited for a horror story than a novel about a girl adjusting to the fact that she was kidnapped as a kid and grew up with the wrong family. Sure, it's kind of creepy, but it's not "OMG DON'T GO INTO THE BASEMENT" terrifying.

Also, Janie SERIOUSLY needs to stop getting caught inside inanimate objects.

The Deal (As I Know It): 

In the first book in the series (The Face on the Milk Carton), Janie Johnson discovers that when she was a toddler, she was kidnapped from her real family (the Gingers Springs) by Hannah, the daughter of her (fake) parents, the Johnsons. In the books that follow, Janie tries to adjust to having two families while being thrust into the media spotlight.

Now, I'll be honest and say that I never read any of the books after Milk Carton, which I picked up and devoured some time in 1991. But when I heard that the series was finally ending, I couldn't resist the opportunity to find out what happened to Janie.

What happened, apparently, is that Janie became kind of a dick to the Johnsons. She's in college now, and she's spending more and more time with the Springs, who have a lot of kids with a lot of drama that I really couldn't bring myself to care about. Janie ditched Reeve, her high school boyfriend, in a previous book after he exploited her story for his sports radio job (just... go with it), but she still finds herself missing him (spoilers on that below). When Calvin Vinesett, a true crime writer, starts sniffing around for interviews, it sends everyone into a panic about the potential consequences. Will Calvin unearth more secrets, exposing Janie yet again to the glare of national attention? Meanwhile, we FINALLY get a glimpse into the mind of Hannah, who is living a shitty existence and contemplating revenge...

When We Broke Up: Around Page 154

I almost made it halfway through the book, but I literally could not stomach another page of these awful people and their insipid lives. Sure, I never found out if Hannah managed to enact some kind of crazy person revenge, and I never discovered if Janie made peace with her kidnapping past. But thanks to the first 150 pages, I learned the most important thing: I DON'T CARE.

I Should Have Listened To: My 2010 Self

I re-read this book back in 2010 as part of our banned book post that year, and I was pretty surprised by how terribly it was written. I mean, when you re-visit a book you loved as a kid, you can expect a fair amount of disappointment due to the evolution of your taste and maturity of your literary standards. But man, it was hard to remember why I loved The Face on the Milk Carton so much as a tween. Was it the flat characters? Or the lack of any real tension? (Actually, it was mainly due to the mention of sex, which was not something we usually got to read about in school.) I have no idea why I thought this final novel would be any different, although my 2010 self thinks it might be all of the brain cells I've lost in the last two and half years due to alcohol. (Shut your pie hole, 2010 Posh!)

How Purple Is Your Prose: Phoned In

I read a ton of Cooney's books as a tween, but I don't remember much about her style. It's possible that she has always written in this basic, uninspired manner. If that's the case, she's made a lot of money doing it, so hats off to you, Ms. Cooney! But seriously, there were times when I felt like I was back in Spanish 3, translating a story into halting English. The characters have no layers, the dialogue is laughable and the storylines aren't even worthy of Passions. (Although I admit that's a high standard.)

Here's an example of Janie speaking:

"I'm coming for the weekend, Reeve. But the limo is too slow with all those stops. It's too annoying. I'm taking a taxi all the way to the airport. I have lots of money. Even if I did inherit it from a grandmother who thought I was somebody else. With you I don't have to be somebody else."

I mean, WHO TALKS LIKE THAT? And why does Janie always tell people close to her things that they most definitely already know? Here's another example:

"Our wedding will be in the church, Stephen. With God as our witness. I'm not actually Janie Johnson, even though I graduated from high school as if I were, and I'm at college as if I were. But in church, for my wedding, I will be married as Jennie Spring. Father John will say, 'Do you, Jennie, take this man, Reeve, to be your wedded husband?' And I, Jennie Spring, will say 'I do.' And a minute later, I will be Jennie Spring Shields. Janie Johnson will be finished. I'm retiring her."

Janie, the only person who can get away with using the phrase "with God as my witness" is Scarlett Effing O'Hara so STEP OFF. Also, WE KNOW YOU STILL USE THE NAME JANIE JOHNSON. YOU DON'T NEED TO REMIND US.

Maybe if the plot had been enticing, or the action exhilarating, I could have handled the banality of the text. But the story was just as stale as the words used to describe it.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Stupid Assholes

I'm sitting here, trying to think of one character I actually liked in this book, and the only person that remotely comes to mind is Mr. Johnson. Because he had a stroke and can't really talk anymore. Bless you, Mr. Johnson, for your sweet, sweet silence. Everyone else made me want to stab myself in the eyeball. Even Janie, our supposed heroine, is a TOTAL MORON. She falls in love with a guy who is obviously just trying to pump her for information, and then when she discovers his true motives, she runs into the arms of Reeve, who threw her under the bus just to get a promotion at work. Even worse, she decides, over the course of one weekend, to MARRY HIM. Keep in mind that she is STILL IN COLLEGE. Here's some insight into her thought process:

She loved the Johnsons. She understood. She forgave. But remembering what her Johnson father had done could still leave her trembling with anger and hurt. Was it right to get married just to solve family problems? Maybe it was an excellent reason. Maybe it was no reason.

Or maybe it was a REALLY BAD REASON.

While Janie is busy being an idiot, everyone else tries to make her look good by being IMBECILES. Here's a convo between Janie's (fake) mom and Reeve's mom about their children's upcoming mistake nuptials:

"I think we can be proud of how mature and sensible our children are," said Miranda. "Reeve and Janie will make a fine couple and if they struggle financially, didn't we all, when we were young? As for college, Janie has promised that she will transfer to a college in Charlotte. There seem to be several in the area."

"But if Janie doesn't work," cried Mrs. Shields, "how will they live? Reeve hardly earns a thing!"

"That's their problem, though," said Miranda. "Our problem is to decide what to wear to the wedding."

"And Charlotte!" said Mrs. Shields in tones of disgust. "Who even knew there was a town called Charlotte?"

UM, MOST PEOPLE, MRS. SHIELDS. It's the largest city in North Caroline, you stupid hag.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Sexism

Janie isn't exactly an empowered female. She's far too dependent on Reeve to solve her problems, and her main source of excitement about getting married seems to be decorating a new place.

She thought of Reeve's tiny rooms and his three pieces of furniture. The apartment would be hers, and she had always wanted to decorate her own place. Reeve would think anything she did was perfect. Was it right to get married just so she could paint a living room?

Janie, call me crazy, but I see divorce in your future.

The sexism isn't just confined to Janie. Many of the gender roles in the book are cliched and more than a little effed up. Here's another stellar example from Stephen (Janie's real brother) and his sex buddy, Kathleen.

Kathleen breathed quietly so Stephen would not remember she was there. Stephen liked a girl who was somewhat in his life, not a girl who dominated it.

Stephen wouldn't let Kathleen live with him or even spend the night. He felt that if she moved on, she'd feel all permanent and stuff. He'd run out of oxygen and have to throw himself off a cliff.


Restraining Order Status: Just in Case

You know, maybe I'm being too hard on this book. Sure, it's poorly written, and it seems like a transparent attempt to cash in one more time on the Janie Johnson series. (It's been over twelve years since the last book came out. Were Janie Johnson fans really pounding on Cooney's door for this one? Or were they just pissed that they named their kids Denim and Lace because Janie made it seem like such a great idea?) But even though I didn't enjoy it, there's probably some younger readers out there who would. Hopefully, this book will forget all about me (and vice versa) and start hanging out with someone more appropriate. Like a sixth-grader. Until then, I'll just go ahead and file this restraining order, because this series is obviously an expert on kidnapping, and I don't want to take any chances.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Random House Children's Books. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Janie Face to Face will be released on January 8.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).