The Face on the Milk Carton

by Caroline B. Cooney, Caroline Bruce

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Chapter 3 Summary

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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.

During this conversation, Janie has another flashback. She cannot control the images that come to her; she thinks of them as a "daymare"—a sort of waking nightmare. In the daymare, she sees herself in a kitchen taking a piece of candy out of her mother’s apron pocket. “But my mother doesn’t wear aprons,” she thinks.

When Janie returns home, her parents act cheerful and loving as always. She and her mother have signed up to start a cake decorating class tonight, and Janie goes, somewhat reluctantly, reflecting that she and her mother are no good at anything crafty. Janie makes frosting flowers and finds she is as bad at it as she expects. Next she tries writing Happy Birthday. As she works, her hands shake; she wonders if her own birthday is the one she has always known or the one written on the milk carton.

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