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.

Janie tells her friends that the picture on the carton is of her. They all laugh, thinking that she is making up stories to get out of class, but Janie knows it is true. As the bell rings to signal the end of lunch, she thinks, “I was kidnapped.”