A typical school day shatters for fifteen-year-old Janie Johnson during lunch period as she stares at the picture of a kidnapped child on the milk carton that she recognizes as herself. This incident trips a series of flashbacks where Janie Johnson (actually Jennie Spring) begins to remember her family and the circumstances surrounding her abduction. With support from her confidante and boyfriend Reeve, Janie eventually confronts her parents and learns that she was left with them by their daughter Hannah. The Johnsons believe Hannah, who tells them Janie is their granddaughter, and that both Hannah and Janie are being pursued by a religious cult that Hannah joined when she ran away from home. When Hannah deserts the Johnsons and Janie, they take their granddaughter and flee their former life—moving to Connecticut, changing their last name from Javenson to Johnson— to avoid being discovered by the cult. But the Johnsons only know part of the truth regarding Janie's true identity.
(The entire section is 160 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
As The Face on the Milk Carton begins, Janie Johnson is finishing an essay in English class. She does not pay much attention to her work. Instead, she thinks about learning to drive. Her father thinks that she is too young. In fact, he would prefer that she never grew up at all. However, Janie’s mother thinks she is ready to start driving. Last night, Mrs. Johnson convinced her husband to let Janie get a learner’s permit.
Janie fiddles with her essay, changing the spelling of her name to make it look more interesting. She muses that a girl named Jayne Johnston or Jayyne Jonstone would probably attract more notice than Jane Johnson. Her friends all have beautiful names, and she resolves that her children will have good names someday, too. She wonders why her parents chose such a boring name for her.
When the bell rings for lunch, Janie joins several friends in her school’s cramped lunchroom. She has recently been diagnosed with a lactose intolerance, and she watches enviously as her friends slurp milk with their lunches. They look at the picture on the milk carton and debate whether anyone could recognize a girl twelve years after she had been kidnapped.
Janie’s next-door neighbor, a good-looking senior named Reeve, waves at her across the cafeteria. As she waves back, she thinks about the problems he is having with his family. All three of Reeve’s older siblings got into excellent colleges, but he earns mostly Ds and Fs. He and his parents fight about this a great deal, and Reeve often takes refuge at Janie’s house. She gets along well with him, and her friends think he wants to be her boyfriend. However, Janie knows that her overprotective parents are unlikely to let her go out on a date with a boy. They do not even let Janie go shopping alone.
As her friends banter, Janie eats her peanut butter sandwich and wishes she could drink some milk with it. In a sudden fit of rebellion, she decides that she does not care about her lactose problem. She snatches a half-full milk carton from her friend Sarah-Charlotte and gulps it down. Sarah-Charlotte protests, but Janie does not answer. She sits staring at the picture on the carton. It’s a picture of her, Janie, when she was three years old. She remembers wearing the dress in the picture, a polka-dot dress. She even remembers the scratchiness of the collar and the way it caught the wind when she wore it....
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
For the rest of the school day, Janie's mind stays stuck on the picture on the milk carton. How could she have been kidnapped? It does not seem possible. She has two loving parents and a normal life, but she is sure that she is the girl in the picture. It makes no sense.
Janie goes through the motions of the school day, taking notes and answering questions—but all the time, she wonders if she is going insane. Perhaps it is a side effect of her lactose intolerance. Maybe drinking the milk drove her mad. The school day ends, and her body moves slowly as she packs up her things. By the time she gets outside into the rain, her bus is gone.
Feeling dizzy and confused, Janie stands on the sidewalk in the downpour. She watches a jeep approach. It is aimed straight for her, but she is feeling so shell-shocked that it does not even occur to her to step out of the way. The jeep stops in time, and the driver opens the passenger door. It is Reeve, her neighbor. He tells her to get in out of the rain.
Reeve loves storms and floods, so he suggests driving down to the water to see if it is rising. Janie agrees. As he drives, she flattens out the milk carton, which she has kept from lunch, and clips it inside her notebook. Reeve comments that this looks like an interesting hobby. Janie does not explain.
Stopping at a spot called the Scenic Overlook, Reeve confides that he feels upset about being the only unintelligent kid in his family. His mother recently confided to Janie’s parents that she is proud of her three older children and that “three out of four isn’t bad.” Janie comforts him and tells him that his mother was out of line.
As Reeve talks about his problems, Janie’s mind frequently returns to the picture on the milk carton. She sneaks a peek at it and reads the name underneath: Jennie Spring. The description says that Jennie was taken from a shopping mall in New Jersey. It also lists a birth date that would make her somewhat younger than Janie. Janie knows nothing about New Jersey, but she has always been smaller and less sophisticated than her friends. Could this be because she is younger?
Reeve invites Janie out for ice cream. She feels too worried to go home, so she agrees to join him in spite of her lactose intolerance. As they sit down to eat, she has a sudden, vivid flashback of being a little girl and wearing the polka dot dress that was pictured on the milk...
(The entire section is 582 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Reeve drops Janie off at home. Her dad is out coaching soccer, and her mom is volunteering at the local hospital. Janie walks around the house looking at her family’s possessions. She finds a note from her mother, calling Janie “darling.” She finds a stack of her jeans, recently washed and neatly folded. The house looks exactly like what it is: the home of a normal, loving family. It does not look like the home of two kidnappers and their victim.
Janie examines all the photos of herself on the walls. They show a happy, well-loved child skiing, dancing, and traveling. She thinks she must be crazy to consider that she may have been kidnapped. Her parents are too kind. They may be overprotective, but by no stretch of the imagination are they evil.
Yet there are no baby pictures of Janie, not anywhere in the house. Janie has asked about this before, and her parents have said that they did not own a camera until she was five. She has always accepted this explanation, but suddenly it seems feeble. Why did they never have their only daughter professionally photographed?
She goes to her bedroom and looks at her possessions as if they belong to a stranger. Janie is a girl who constantly starts new hobbies and gives them up; she can see evidence of this fact all over the room. She sees pictures and possessions left over from a horseback-riding phase, a flute-playing phase, and a gymnastics phase, among others.
Janie Johnson gives up many things, but surely one cannot give up being a whole person. If Jennie Spring was kidnapped at age three, and if Janie is Jennie, then she should remember. She lies down on her bed and tries to dredge up memories of this little girl. Nothing comes to her, but she does get the odd sensation that another person is indeed buried inside her. This is a creepy idea, so she gets up and runs over to Reeve’s house.
Reeve’s mother, Mrs. Shields, is watching Lassie when Janie comes in. When Janie asks, Mrs. Shields explains that she has known Janie’s family since they came to town when Janie was five. Mrs. Shields remembers Janie as a sweet, happy little girl but says that Mrs. Johnson was a strict mother. When Janie asks why, Mrs. Shields says, “What mother ever needed a reason?” Life is not like Lassie. Dangerous situations and people lurk everywhere, and a child can disappear if a parent fails to stay alert, even for a moment....
(The entire section is 578 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Janie sleeps well, and in the morning she marvels that she did not have nightmares. However, she is still shaken by the daymares she experienced yesterday. She does not call them memories in her mind.
When she goes to school, Janie watches and listens while her friends talk and joke. One of them, Adair, is taking her driver’s test this afternoon. She comments that she is terrified that she will do something ridiculous, like forget her birth certificate. Hearing this, Janie panics. She didn't know that a person needs a birth certificate to get a driver’s license. Suddenly she wonders if her parents have her birth certificate at all. She cannot help suspecting that they do not.
Jason, another of Janie’s friends, tells a story about the first time he saw his birth certificate. The date on it was wrong; he panicked, thinking that he was adopted. Eventually he found out that two dates are recorded on the birth certificate: the date of birth and the date the baby is registered officially. The dates on his certificate are a few days apart, and he had noticed the latter one.
When Janie gets home from school, she asks to see her birth certificate. Her mother says that it is at the bank, in the safety deposit box. When she says that she is too busy to get it now, Janie asks if they can go tomorrow. Her mother replies that the bank will be closed tomorrow, and Janie demands to go Monday. Annoyed, Janie's mother loses her temper. “Why don’t you want me to see my birth certificate?” Janie asks.
Janie’s mother disregards the question and offers a snack. Janie goes to the kitchen to find something to eat. Her mother, who normally eats a snack with her every day, does not follow. Janie wonders if her mother is indeed hiding something. The thought brings on a confused, dizzy feeling, and she has another daymare.
In this daymare, Janie is in a messy kitchen full of people and toys. Babies are screaming. Janie is asking for milk. Nobody hears her, so she gets out the milk carton and pours herself a glass. It spills, but she wipes it up. She feels proud of herself; then someone picks her up and hugs her.
When Janie snaps back to the present, she looks around at her neat, uncluttered kitchen. It is nothing like the one she just saw in her mind. She rushes outside and finds Reeve raking leaves in his yard. He asks her to help; she joins him in the task, but she rakes so quickly that...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Janie and Reeve kiss for a long time. When they separate, Janie takes a moment to feel amazed; she then kisses him again, putting her hands on the back of his neck, feeling his pulse. They are interrupted when Mrs. Shields calls out to Reeve to tell him he has a phone call. Reeve runs inside. When he is gone, Janie fixes the leaf pile to erase the impressions of their bodies. Reeve does not come back out, so Janie goes into her house.
Inside, Janie’s mother excitedly takes a pan out of the refrigerator. She has been practicing her cake-decorating skills all day, with impressive results. She has created a frosting football scene on a sheet cake. Tomorrow Janie's family is having a tailgate party with Reeve’s and Sarah-Charlotte’s families, and Mrs. Johnson is planning to serve the special cake for dessert.
The mention of the party makes Janie realize she has all day tomorrow to spend with Reeve. The idea excites and frightens her, partly because Sarah-Charlotte will be there, too. Janie is not sure that she is ready to tell anyone that she shared her first kisses with Reeve. She does not even know if the moment meant anything to him.
Janie’s mother notices the leaves in her hair, and Janie says mildly that she and Reeve have been acting “like a pair of third graders,” jumping around in a leaf pile. She excuses herself, saying that she wants to get the weekend’s homework done early because of the tailgate party tomorrow. She goes upstairs and thinks about kissing Reeve. She debates whether or not to call her friends and tell them about it. Finally, she decides not to call.
Janie opens her school bag and dumps her books on the bed. Her notebook flops open, revealing the milk carton she has clipped inside. She takes it out and looks at the picture of Jennie Spring. She picks up the phone and starts dialing the 800 number listed below the picture. Before she can finish dialing, she loses her courage and hangs up.
Calling the number seems impossible. For one thing, Janie does not know what she would say. For another, it feels like a betrayal of her parents. However, she knows there is a set of parents out there hoping to find out what happened to their daughter. They probably fear the worst—that their little Jennie is dead or perhaps living a terrible life as a victim of sadistic rapists or torturers. How would they feel if Jennie turned out to be a happy, healthy teenage girl...
(The entire section is 542 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
In the morning, Janie begs her parents to let her drive them to the tailgate party. After some discussion, they agree. Janie happily backs out of the driveway, doing a perfect job of it and feeling proud of herself—especially when Reeve comes outside and sees her. Her parents are terrified throughout the journey, and they force her to drive well under the speed limit all the way. Janie is too pleased with herself to care.
Reeve’s sister Lizzie is visiting for the football game, a situation which Janie finds annoying. Of Reeve’s three high-achieving siblings, Lizzie is perhaps the most driven. She excelled as an undergraduate at Princeton, and now she is in law school. She is highly disapproving of Reeve, and Janie resents this. Even Janie’s mother is a bit ill at ease around Lizzie. She whispers nervously to Janie that Lizzie might laugh at the football cake.
The three families eat and chat together. After the picnic, the parents send the kids off to walk through the campus on their own. As they walk, Reeve confesses that he may have to spend next year repeating some high school classes if he wants to get into college someday. When Sarah-Charlotte says this would be “humiliating,” Janie finds it annoying that her friend is not more empathetic. She wants to hold Reeve’s hand, but she is too nervous.
When the game starts, everyone sits together and cheers. Janie’s mother finally works up the courage to unveil her cake, and everyone cheerfully eats it up. When Reeve asks for his third piece, Janie gathers her courage and feeds it to him. The two of them spend the rest of the game focused on each other. Sarah-Charlotte, who spends the night with Janie after the game, reacts to Janie and Reeve's new relationship with a mixture of giddiness and enviousness.
The next Monday at school, Reeve barely acknowledges Janie. Janie does not know yet what she and Reeve are to each other, so she pretends not to care. Her recurring worries about the picture on the milk carton drown out her thoughts of him anyway. In Spanish, the teacher announces a class trip to Spain. When Janie hears that she needs to show her birth certificate in order to get a passport, she remembers her plan to look at her birth certificate. At lunch, she glances at the other kids’ milk cartons. There is a different picture this time. Nobody but Janie even seems to notice it.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
When Janie gets home, both of her parents are out, her dad coaching and her mother volunteering. Janie is desperate to get a look at her birth certificate. Once she sees it, she will know that the whole kidnapping idea is wrong, and she can go on with her life. She does not know when the bank closes, but she thinks it will be closed before her parents get home. She goes into her mother’s office with the vague idea of finding the key and going to the bank by herself.
Janie opens her mother’s top desk drawer and sees dozens of folders full of neatly organized information from all of Mrs. Johnson’s many volunteering activities. Janie rifles idly through the papers, reflecting that she has had no more daymares about Jennie Spring’s childhood. If Janie can get to the birth certificate, the daymares may go away forever. Then she will be able to focus on pursuing Reeve and learning to drive.
The lower desk drawer is locked; Janie feels disturbed by that. She knows the drawer must be full of old tax forms and bank statements, and her mother does not seem the type to lock up such papers. What robber would break into the house and take them? Janie looks for a key and fails to find one.
Next, she drifts upstairs. It occurs to her to go to the attic. There are many boxes up there that her mother says are full of old junk she wants to throw away, but Janie now wonders if this is true. Mrs. Johnson is always chosen as the committee head of her volunteer groups precisely because she is a hyper-organized person who does not do things like leave junk sitting around.
Janie goes up to the attic, feeling strangely guilty at doing so without her parents. She sees boxes labeled J for Janie and F for her father, Frank. They contain old sweaters and other odds and ends. This discovery is comforting to Janie—until she finds a trunk marked H. Nobody in Janie’s family has a name beginning with H.
The trunk is locked, but one good tug breaks it open. Janie sifts through it and finds many old school papers by someone named Hannah. Neither of Janie’s parents has ever mentioned anyone with that name. Janie finds a school picture and sees a pretty girl with blond hair. Her face sparks no memories.
Just as she is about to close the trunk and give up, Janie notices a bit of polka-dot fabric. Janie goes cold, but she grabs it and pulls. The next thing she...
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
At dinner, Janie cannot eat. Her mother has cooked a nice meal, pot roast and mashed potatoes, but Janie does not touch it. Her mother offers soup, but Janie—intending to wound—snaps that she would rather eat at McDonald’s. Mr. Johnson makes a joke of this, but Janie can tell that her rudeness has upset her parents.
Although her parents make a deliberate effort to be nice and cheerful during dinner, Janie ignores them. She obsesses about the kidnapping. She considers taking out an ad in a New Jersey newspaper, asking for information about Jennie Spring. As soon as she has this idea, she dismisses it, reasoning that it would be terrible of her to get Jennie’s parents’ hopes up when she does not plan to call them.
By now Janie is fairly sure that she is Jennie Spring, a child stolen from a different family. However, she loves the parents she has, and she does not want another set. She wants her own life, the normal one she lived before the milk carton discovery. Does it make her a bad person to feel this way, when some unknown family is out there waiting and wondering?
Janie is rude to her parents until dinner is over, and then she escapes to her room. There she has the longest and clearest daymare she has had. In it, she hears her child-self speaking, asking her mommy to buy her something. Her mother snaps at her, calling her Jennie and saying that a little girl does not need a leather handbag. She, Jennie, runs off and sits on a stool at an ice cream counter. There a woman buys her a sundae and offers to take her for a ride.
When Janie snaps out of the daymare, she wonders who the woman was who offered her the ride. Mrs. Johnson, the mother she has known all her life? Some stranger, perhaps a former wife of her father? She cannot tell—but now she feels certain that Jennie was once her own name. Just then, Janie’s dad comes in to ask what is wrong. Janie pretends nothing is wrong, but her father refuses to accept her answer. He points out that she has been acting distant and rude. Their conversation turns into a screaming argument. Janie feels shaken by the experience.
The following morning, Janie goes to school early for the Honors Breakfast—a meal of jelly doughnuts served to honor roll students every semester. Somewhat wryly, Janie reflects that although the breakfast is stupid, good students get so little attention in general they have to take what they can get....
(The entire section is 790 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Janie’s parents go silent, shocked by her questions. Janie stands in agony, desperate to know the truth. Her parents look at each other, and some silent communication passes between them. They both nod, agreeing to tell Janie their story.
Haltingly, the Johnsons admit that they are not her parents. They are her grandparents. They had a daughter, Hannah, who is Janie’s real mother. Hearing this, Janie feels frantic with relief. “Is that all?” she says. She can live with being the illegitimate child of a mother she has never met. That is far better than being the victim of a kidnapping, the lost child of faraway strangers.
Mr. Johnson tells Janie that he loves her and that he is her real father in an emotional sense, even if their legal and biological relationship is a little out of the ordinary. He admits, however, that he does not have her birth certificate. He does not know what to do about her driver’s license and passport. To Janie, this seems unimportant under the circumstances.
The family sits down for a snack, laughingly commenting that the Johnsons always use food to fix any emotional upheaval. Janie muses that she is not “completely a Johnson.” Her dad admits that none of them is a real Johnson. Originally, their family name was Javensen. He says it is a long story, and they need to begin it from the beginning.
Taking turns to speak, Janie's parents tell her about her past. The two of them married young and had a child, Hannah, a year later. Hannah was a wonderful person, but she never had the same interests as other children. Even as a little girl, she was always bothered by inequality. She could not live with the fact that she had everything when people elsewhere suffered and starved. When she grew up, she sought relief in the Hare Krishna cult. The cult destroyed her life.
Here, Janie’s parents pause to explain why they have never told Janie this story before now: They were afraid that she would try to find her mother and end up ensnared by the cult, too. Losing Hannah was the most horrible experience the Johnsons have ever had, and they could not stand to lose Janie. Seeing her parents’ emotions, Janie promises never to let this happen.
Continuing the story, Janie’s parents explain that they did everything to get Hannah away from the Hare Krishnas. Nothing worked. The few times they were allowed to visit her, she was like a zombie. They wrote to...
(The entire section is 660 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Janie’s relief lasts until sometime in the night. She wakes up from a nightmare and realizes, all at once, that her parents’ story makes no sense. It explains the box marked H upstairs in the attic, but it does not explain the picture on the milk carton, the name Jennie Spring, or the daymares. The daymares are filled with ice cream, shopping malls, and people who seem like family. There is nothing in them that meshes with her parents' description of Hannah's cult.
Above all, Janie is bothered by the dress in the trunk upstairs. It is a concrete object, undeniably real—and definitely the dress from the milk carton. She lies awake, slowly forming a sickening suspicion. Could her parents have gone crazy after losing their daughter? Could they have driven to a New Jersey shopping mall and kidnapped a new girl to take Hannah's place? Perhaps Mrs. Johnson is the woman from the ice cream parlor who offered little Jennie a ride.
Maybe Janie’s parents really are kidnappers. If so, she should confront them—but she feels conflicted. It is possible that she is wrong. It is also possible that her parents have blocked out their memories of the kidnapping. No matter what, Janie does not want to give up the life she has always known. Even if her parents are criminals, they love her and she loves them.
By morning, Janie is exhausted. During breakfast, she experiences multiple daymares, little fuzzy memories of a big family with many children. These memories continually fail to match the story about the cult. Her parents hover over her, asking several times if she is all right and if she has any questions. As it happens, Janie has many questions, but she does not ask because she is afraid of the answers. She pretends to be fine. She feels that she needs to get out of her house; she insists on going to school as usual.
It is raining, and Reeve normally drives Janie to school on wet days. When she gets into his jeep, he comments that she looks terrible. As they banter about cutting school, Janie tells him to get on the highway and drive south. She is normally a rule-follower, so he assumes at first that she is joking. He does as she asks, but he clearly expects her to tell him to turn around. She does not. Instead, she asks him to drive to New Jersey.
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
It takes two hours to drive from Connecticut to New Jersey. Reeve concentrates on the road while Janie studies the map to find the shopping mall where Jennie Spring was kidnapped. On the road, Janie tells him everything, but he has trouble believing it. He has known Janie’s parents most of his life, and he cannot imagine that they are criminals.
During the drive, Reeve wonders aloud what their parents will think about the two of them skipping school together. He suspects that the adults will accuse Reeve and Janie of going to a hotel or a beach somewhere to have sex. Janie has no room in her mind to worry about this. She is developing a bad headache, and it is all she can do to navigate. She stays silent, speaking only to tell Reeve where to turn.
To break the silence, Reeve tells Janie about his family. He explains that his two older sisters grew up in a sort of war with each other to see who could earn the best grades and win the most awards. His brother, caught between the two girls in age, tried to keep up as well as he could. Reeve, by far the youngest, never wanted anything to do with his siblings' academic rivalry.
Hearing this, Janie reflects that she grew up next door to this family, but she had known nothing of what was going on in their home. She thinks people really don't notice anything except their own problems. Janie’s life has been falling apart lately, and her friends have no idea. Janie believes she is being a bad friend to Reeve now, focusing on herself when he has just poured his heart out to her. Inwardly, she decides that she is a bad person:
Because a good person, a good daughter...would have remembered her real parents...She wouldn’t just trade them in. And certainly not for an ice cream sundae.
Reeve asks Janie what she plans to do if she finds the Spring family. Janie has only thought about finding the ice cream shop, and she does not know what to do about the Springs. Reeve points out that they will call the police if she speaks to them. If that happens, Janie’s whole life will change.
After thinking it over, Janie decides to look up the Springs’ address and go see their house. She does not want to speak to them; she only wants to see them. Reeve and Janie drive to the right place, and they watch as three red-haired boys arrive home from school. Reeve catches a glimpse of a red-haired woman as...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Reeve turns off the highway and parks in front of a cheap hotel. Janie protests but goes inside with him anyway. He uses his father’s credit card to pay for a room. When it is Janie’s turn to sign the registry, she hesitates, wondering whether to call herself Johnson or Javensen or Spring. Eventually she signs Jane Johnson. The hotel clerk sarcastically tells her that she has a bad imagination. Reeve seems on the point of punching the man, but he holds himself back.
Before they go to the room, Janie says again that she cannot do what Reeve wants. This time, Reeve accepts her refusal. He stops and stares at the dingy surroundings, and Janie thinks that she would have said yes if not for the awful setting. She says, “When we do it for real, Reeve, it won’t be like this.” Reeve, who has seemed utterly depressed, brightens at the mention of the word when. He pulls her close to him and kisses her. She kisses him back and soon finds herself wishing that she had agreed to go further.
It is getting late. Reeve and Janie both know that their parents are likely to call the police if they do not get home soon. They discuss the matter of the hotel charge on Reeve’s father’s credit card, but there is nothing to do about it now. They are too exhausted to worry about it anyway.
As he drives into their hometown, Reeve suddenly says, “Your parents have been my parents, too. They raised me as much as my own.” Even now, with all the evidence in front of him, he cannot believe that Janie’s sweet, loving parents are criminals. He begs Janie to wait for an explanation before deciding that they are guilty.
Janie wants to do what Reeve asks. She wants to be a good daughter to the parents she has known all her life. Unfortunately, she is doing a terrible job of it. Just last night, she had promised them that she would never leave them in the way Hannah did. Twelve hours later, she had gone searching for a phantom family.
When Reeve drives up their street, Janie sees all the lights on in both his house and hers. Reeve parks the jeep, and he and Janie just sit there, afraid to go inside. They are spared the effort. Two sets of parents, his and hers, come running outside, screaming.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Janie feels oddly thrilled when her parents scream at her. She tells herself that their anger proves they are real parents who really love her. She apologizes. Reeve explains that the two of them were just talking, not running away as their parents suspected. Reeve’s father threatens extreme punishment, and Janie suddenly realizes that she and Reeve are at risk of being kept apart. “But Reeve helped me,” she says. “I needed him and he was there.” This diffuses the situation a little. Both sets of parents are forced to admit that she has a point, but they maintain that it was horrible of Janie and Reeve to run off without calling home.
During another sleepless night, Janie considers what she has learned. By now she feels sure that her parents kidnapped her in a fit of insanity and blocked out the memory. However, she cannot bring herself to ruin their lives and hers. She decides to forget the family of redheads in New Jersey. She will just be the person she has always been.
In the morning, Janie’s mother drives her to school. She begs Janie to come home right after class and to call if any problems come up. Janie promises. She spends the school day in a fog of fatigue. At lunch her friends ask her if she is hiding something. One of them, Katrina, guesses that Janie is in love, and Janie cannot help glancing at Reeve. Her friends urge her to blow him a kiss, which she does. He blows her a kiss back, publicly acknowledging her romantically for the first time.
In history, Janie’s class gets a research assignment and goes to the library. While there, Janie realizes that she can look up Jennie Spring’s kidnapping in old newspapers, but she does not want to do this in the school library where people are likely to notice what she is doing. After school, she takes a bus to the public library. She finds several twelve-year-old issues of The New York Times on microfiche. She reads a few stories about Jennie Spring but stops short of looking at a picture of the Spring family. She has already decided not to reveal herself to the Springs, and she worries that she will feel guiltier if she sees their faces.
Just then, Reeve comes in, looking for her. When she asks how his family is doing, he confides that his parents have already found the hotel receipt. They refuse to believe that Reeve and Janie refrained from having sex. However, they have promised not to tell the Johnsons. They...
(The entire section is 524 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Janie’s dad is thrilled when she appears at his soccer game. He thanks her for coming and introduces her to all of his players. Afterward, Janie’s mother suggests going out for pizza, which surprises everyone because she usually refuses to feed her family anything but healthful, home-cooked meals. Janie goes to the pizza parlor but finds she cannot eat. Now that she knows the truth about her kidnapping, she is living a lie, pretending that she is still ignorant about her real identity. The thought makes her sick to her stomach.
During dinner, Janie’s mom suggests going to the Adolescent Trauma Center for family counseling. Janie refuses, saying that she wants to work her feelings out on her own. Inwardly, she thinks that it would be horrible to lie to a psychologist; it is bad enough to lie to everyone else. Janie’s dad also rejects the counseling idea. He does not want anyone examining their private lives. Mrs. Johnson seems upset at her family’s reaction to her suggestion.
At this moment, Janie is struck by one of her daymares. She hears herself and a family reciting a rhyming prayer before a meal. The Johnsons have never been religious, so this is definitely a memory from the Spring household. Janie tries to push the words of the prayer out of her head. Her parents, noticing her discomfort, ask what she is thinking about. She says she is fine, but she can hear the false note in her voice.
That night, Janie cannot concentrate on her homework. She grabs a disused diary and starts to write a letter to the Springs inside it. She explains how she found out about herself and how much she likes the life she has lived as Jane Johnson. Once she starts writing, she has trouble stopping. The next day during school, she takes out the diary during English class and writes more. When the bell rings for lunch, she fails to notice until her teacher interrupts her. Later, in her typing class, she prepares some envelopes with her return address on them.
After school, Reeve gives Janie a ride. On the way home, he stops at the Scenic Overlook to kiss. Caught up in her worries about her family, she says that she must have been a horrible child to allow herself to be kidnapped. She is pretty sure that three-year-olds know their own phone numbers and that she could have called home if she had wanted to. Instead, she simply forgot her family. Reeve tries to reassure her that she is not at fault. However, he...
(The entire section is 500 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
As autumn comes to a close, Janie finds a new balance. She takes the polka dot dress out of Hannah’s trunk and hangs it in her closet. Every morning and every evening, she touches it to remind herself. She also keeps writing in the diary, telling her story—but never sending it to the Springs.
One weekend morning, Reeve comes over to Janie’s house for breakfast and then takes her out for a drive. Just before they leave, Janie’s notebook falls open to reveal the milk carton she keeps hidden inside. She snaps it shut and apologizes, but her parents look suspicious. She takes the notebook up to her room before leaving the house.
Although Janie’s life has returned to normal, more or less, she still thinks about the kidnapping a great deal. On the drive, Reeve talks about his family, but she interrupts to tell him that she looked up the kidnapping in the New York Times. When he falls silent, she realizes that he thought she was listening to him. She muses that people all want to be the center of attention. In fact, this is the very feeling that led Janie, at age three, to accept a ride from a woman who paid attention to her after her own busy mother briefly brushed her off.
Janie tries to assure Reeve that she cares more about him than about her own dark past. “You’re the light of my life,” she says, fully expecting him to scoff at her sappiness. Instead he seems pleased. They stop at a restaurant and order Cokes, and then they go to a waterfall to spend some romantic time together.
While kissing, Janie and Reeve pause for a moment. Reeve appears to gather his courage—and then he admits that he told Janie’s story to his sister Lizzie, the one who is in law school. Janie screams at him, but he stays calm. He says that Janie will lose her mind if she does not do something about the kidnapping.
Reeve explains that Lizzie has a theory. She thinks it was Hannah, not the elder Johnsons, who kidnapped Jennie Spring. As soon as Janie hears this idea, she relaxes somewhat. It is a huge relief, the idea that her parents are not evil criminals. Reeve says that Hannah probably was not evil either; she was a scared escapee from a cult who needed human companionship and found it in a little girl she met at a shopping mall.
Janie considers how it would feel to admit publicly that she was kidnapped by the daughter of the people she has always believed to be...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
The next weekend, Sarah-Charlotte, Jason, and Reeve hang out at Janie’s house. They rent movies, lay out a game of Trivial Pursuit, and then spend time arguing about whether to watch the movies or play the game. Sarah-Charlotte complains that Jason is not romantic. Janie shows off a pumpkin pin that Reeve gave her; he is the only truly romantic boyfriend among their group of friends.
Janie starts the Trivial Pursuit game and asks for a history question. Instead of reading the question on the card, Sarah-Charlotte makes up her own: “Did Reeve give you the milk carton as well as the pumpkin pin?” Apparently she has noticed Janie’s habit of looking at her milk carton several times every day. Janie’s mother overhears the girls' conversation and mentions that she, too, has noticed Janie's interest in the carton. Janie panics, but Reeve comes to her rescue, claiming that the milk carton is a romantic secret between the two of them.
Afterward, Janie takes the milk carton into the bathroom. She intends to tear it up, but she cannot bring herself to do it. She cannot destroy the little girl she used to be, even if that girl was a horrible child who ran off with a stranger and forgot about her family. Janie continues to write in her notebook, creating draft after draft. Reeve sensibly asks why she needs to perfect the story. What is she planning to use it for? Janie refuses to answer.
Reeve is getting tired of talking about the kidnapping, so Janie tries to keep her thoughts inside. Eventually she arrives at the conclusion that she is still acting like that awful three-year-old who ran off with a stranger and never looked back. If she does not tell the Springs who she is, she is still guilty. Alone in her bedroom, she dials the 800 number from the back of the milk carton. The Springs’ answering machine picks up, but Janie does not know what to say. She hangs up.
Later, Sarah-Charlotte calls to talk about boys. Janie is too absorbed in her problems to pay much attention to the conversation. When Sarah-Charlotte notices her lack of interest, she says that Janie no longer cares about her friends. Janie tries to apologize, but Sarah-Charlotte hangs up.
A day or so later, Reeve drives Janie to the Scenic Overlook. On the way she demands that he pull over. He does, and she throws up on the side of the road. He takes her to a nearby cafe and tells her that she must confess the...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
For the next week, Janie feels terrible all the time. Reeve refuses to look at her or speak to her. However, Sarah-Charlotte is not angry anymore. Janie thinks this is mostly because it is so much fun to play the comforting friend after a break-up. Sarah-Charlotte quickly develops the theory that Reeve broke up with Janie because she would not have sex.
Janie does not tell anyone the real reason for the break-up. Reeve had wanted to be the most important part of her life, and she had kept putting her problems first. Now she knows how awful it is to lose someone. This leaves her doubly sure that she cannot lose her parents’ love. She has to rid herself entirely of the idea of the kidnapping. She forms a plan to lock all the evidence in Hannah’s trunk. She finishes her letter to the Springs and puts it in an envelope with her return address. In an effort to be complete, she adds the Springs' address as well.
Janie’s worries have prevented her from eating properly for months, and she is fairly sure it has been days since she last consumed food. She walks dizzily through the school hallways, hardly able to hold herself up. At one point between classes, she decides to look at her letter. She searches for it, but it is missing.
Janie panics. What if someone finds the envelope and mails it? Then the Springs will learn everything. Janie has no choice but to confront the issue. She stumbles into Reeve’s classroom, so sick with worry and lack of food that she can hardly see. She calls out to Reeve that she needs Lizzie’s phone number. Reeve gets up, ushers Janie out of the classroom, and drives her home. When she explains what has happened, he explains something to her too:
I hate to play psychiatrist with you, but you didn’t lose that letter by any accident, Janie. Any more than you wrote it and put it in an envelope and addressed it by accident. You had to get out of this somehow, and that’s the route you took.
At Janie’s house, Reeve writes down Lizzie’s phone number. He offers to make the call, but Janie says no. Thinking that he is staying with her only out of politeness, she tells him that he can go home if he likes. Reeve says he wants to stay with her, and he asks her to forgive him for everything.
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Janie marvels at how easily Lizzie explains the kidnapping situation to the Johnsons. Janie has spent months worrying and wondering, and now Lizzie’s quick, efficient description has freed Janie of the whole burden in a few moments. It is an enormous relief. Janie feels like dancing. Her parents, on the other hand, are crushed. Although they did not commit the kidnapping themselves, they feel guilty. They also worry about what the Springs will do when they find out what happened.
Janie suddenly feels hungry, and she asks her parents to order a pizza. This makes them laugh. They comment that she must be their real daughter if she gets hungry during a crisis. Mrs. Johnson timidly says that experiences like Janie’s would have destroyed Hannah. Janie answers that it nearly did destroy her, but she was strong enough to handle her problems in the end.
The family discusses all the ways the Springs may react. When Janie says she wants the whole situation to just go away, Lizzie tells her a difficult truth: it will never go away. It will always be Janie’s story, no matter what she wants. Mrs. Johnson has trouble reconciling herself to what has happened. “I can’t believe this is my life," she says.
Mr. Johnson suggests going on with life as always and telling the Springs nothing, but Mrs. Johnson vetoes this idea. She thinks about Hannah daily and prays for Hannah every night; she is sure that Mrs. Spring suffers for her lost child in a similar way.
Needing reassurance, Janie begs her parents to forgive her for what has happened. Her mother and father hug her as she and they cry together. The scene becomes so emotional that even the stoic Lizzie has tears in her eyes. All Janie really wants is a happy ending, and Lizzie tries to help find one. She suggests that Janie should offer to visit the Springs in exchange for their promise not to press kidnapping charges against Hannah or anyone else involved. Janie thinks this over, but before she reaches a decision, she sees her mother dialing the Springs in New Jersey. Now that Mrs. Johnson knows the truth, she cannot allow the indecision and the waiting to continue. She says that Mrs. Spring needs to know what happened to her child.
Everyone waits in suspense as the phone rings. Janie hugs her mother and takes the receiver. Eventually, a woman answers. Still clinging to the woman she has known as her mother all her life, Janie...
(The entire section is 432 words.)