The Face on the Milk Carton

by Caroline B. Cooney, Caroline Bruce

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Chapter 16 Summary

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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 truth to her parents. At first he agreed with her decision to hide the truth about herself, but now he sees that her guilt is destroying her.

Janie cannot stand the idea of confessing. Everyone will know that she is a horrible person who was willing to forget her family in exchange for a dish of ice cream. Reeve tells her this is not true: she was a little kid who did not know what was happening. Then he gives her an ultimatum: tell her parents, or end their relationship. He cannot watch her struggle anymore. Janie loves Reeve and wants to stay with him, but she cannot do what he asks. She chooses to break up.

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