The Face on the Milk Carton

by Caroline B. Cooney, Caroline Bruce

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Chapter 8 Summary

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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.

To her surprise, Reeve is at the breakfast. She has noticed him holding school books a few times of late, and she asks why he did not say anything about making the honor roll. He explains that he did not know if he was capable of the feat because he never worked hard in school until this semester. The school principal interjects, starting to say that Reeve is becoming just like his older siblings; Janie knows what he is going to say and how it would ruin Reeve’s accomplishment for him. She interrupts the principal, joking that Reeve is now just like her.

The PTA makes seating assignments for the Honors Breakfast, so Janie does not get to sit with her friends. The PTA president encourages everyone to make small talk. Janie tries, but she does a terrible job of chatting with Dave, a cute senior boy who is sitting next to her. She cannot even tell him where she was born because she does not know. Dave, to her surprise, seems charmed by her. Too confused even to think about flirting, Janie rebuffs his advances.

That afternoon, Reeve gives Janie a ride home. He speaks a bit stiffly to her, and he claims that all the girls flirted with him at the Honors Breakfast. Janie feels hurt. She tries to tell him about the milk carton and her suspicions about her parents, but she cannot get through the first sentence. She falls into a glum reverie. When they finally arrive at home, Reeve is forced to remind her to get out of the car. His rough tone makes Janie feel hurt yet again, but she has bigger problems on her mind.

Walking into her house, Janie finds both of her parents at home, cheerfully preparing an after-school snack. Without even saying hello, Janie demands answers about her life:

I want to know why there aren't any photographs of me until I was five....I want to know who Hannah is upstairs in the trunk. I want to know why you won't let me see my birth certificate.

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