Although not included on any “best books” lists when first published, The Face on the Milk Carton has become popular with young adults. In addition to receiving the Pacific States and Iowa Teen awards, the novel was an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council (IRA-CBC) Children’s Choice Book. Its sequel, Whatever Happened to Janie (1993), was an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults.
Throughout The Face on the Milk Carton, Cooney presents only one side of the story—that of Janie and the Johnsons. In the sequel, she presents the story of the Springs, including their life in the years without Janie (their Jennie) and the adjustments that have to be made when Janie rejoins the family.
The subject of kidnapping has been discussed in other young adult novels, although not in the same manner as in The Face on the Milk Carton. In Taking Terri Mueller (1981), by Norma Fox Mazer, a young girl is kidnapped by her noncustodial parent. In The Twisted Window (1987), by Lois Duncan, Brad kidnaps a young girl to replace the sister whom he accidentally killed. Jean Thesman’s Rachel in Rachel Chance (1990) tries to find her young brother, who has been kidnapped by a religious group. In contrast, Cooney deals with the emotional problems of a kidnapped child who has been living with a wonderful family that knows nothing about her past.