Cooney, Caroline B. Janie Face to Face
8 January 2013, Delacorte Books for Young Readers
ARC from YA Books Central; also reviewed there
Janie's been through a lot in the last few years. When she became The Face on the Milk Carton (1990) it was bad enough, but once she dealt with the fact that her parents were not really her parents, she had to figure out Whatever Happened to Janie (1993) and reconnect with her birth family, the Springs. When her boyfriend, Reeve, decides to be The Voice on the Radio (1996) and propel himself into on air popularity by telling Janie's story, Janie's path was clear-- dump him. But when What Janie Found (2000) later was that her "kidnap" father not only knew where his daughter, who kidnapped her, was, but also was sending her monthly checks, the path was less clear. This brings her to her decision to apply to a college where no one knows her story so that she can establish her own identity.
This starts off well-- she is able to visit the Springs on some weekends, and Miranda and Frank, the couple who raised her, on others. She keeps in touch with her old friends, but is glad to make new ones. She is especially fond of Michael, and eventually falls in love with him. Problems arise, however, when she catches him taking an unflattering picture of Frank and realizes that he is working for a writer who is paying him to research Janie's case for a tell-all book. She reconnects with Reeve and, on a whim, visits him at his job at ESPN. They decide that they are still in love, and impetuously plan to be married very soon. Everyone is happy for Janie, who decides that her marriage will be the point at which she turns back into Jennie once and for all.
However, always lurking in the background is Hannah, who for years has led a marginal and dysfunctional life, afraid of being caught for her kidnapping of Janie and harboring years of resentment, especially since she no longer receives checks from her father. She is currently in Colorado, and Janie's brother tries to find her before the wedding, since he fears that Hannah will somehow find a way to take her retribution at the wedding.
Janie is less concerned with Hannah and more concerned with finding a gown, making all of her parents happy, and forming a new life with Reeve. Events swirl around her, but her main goal is to try to figure out, finally, who she is.
The entire series was republished in attractive new paperback editions in May 2012 by Random House's Ember imprint. Language Arts teachers everywhere will be pleased.
Strengths: The continued success of this series hinges on the fact that it involves a topic dear to every middle grade students' heart-- personal identity. How many of them secretly wish-- or fear-- that they are not the person they think they are? Since the series has been out for such a long time, I think that having Janie in college and thinking about getting married is not a bad thing. I read a lot of 1950s books (Sister of the Bride, etc.) that dealt with girls getting married, and was always somewhat intrigued by them. I think the same will hold true of this series. Cooney was able to work new technology into each book, and was able to sustain a coherent feeling throughout the series.
Weaknesses: At first, I was a little bothered by the somewhat detached tone of the book, and went back to see if the other books in the series had the same feeling. They did, and I think it illustrates well the way that Janie feels disconnected from her own life.