The Face on the Milk Carton

Common Sense Media says

A gripping, emotionally complex page-turner.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Janie and her boyfriend cut school one day, arrive home late, and do not call their parents, resulting in serious punishment.


Janie discovers that she was kidnapped from her real family. Initially, she is unsure whether the parents she has now are the kidnappers.


Mild references to adolescent sexual desire. Janie approaches having sex, decides against it, but later hints that she may agree to sex in the future.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this gripping page-turner is likely to inspire serious thinking about the importance of families.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

What if the face on the milk carton was your own? When fifteen-year-old Janie Johnson sees her own picture on a carton of milk, she wonders whether her loving parents are actually kidnappers. If she admits what she knows, will she lose them? This roller coaster of suspense leaves readers eager for its sequel.

Is it any good?


Janie Johnson confronts the abrupt truth that she doesn't know who she really is -- she doesn't even know her real name. Even worse, she has no idea who her parents are -- neither the parents she knows, who may be kidnappers, nor the parents who lost her. And her friendship with Reeve has moved into sexual awareness. Author Caroline Cooney faces these problems honestly and openly.

Teenagers appreciate that honesty. They seem drawn to this book for the intriguing story, and because they recognize the characters as real teenagers like themselves. They instantly become caught up in a good mystery, but they also begin to think about the importance and complexity of family relationships. Janie's dilemma reflects their own uncertainty about life.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about identity and family relationships. The milk carton forces Janie to question everything she thinks she knows about her life. Have you ever learned something surprising about an adult that caused you to see them in a new light?

Book details

Author:Caroline B. Cooney
Genre:Family Life
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:January 1, 1991
Number of pages:184

This review of The Face on the Milk Carton was written by

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About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Adult Written byjjacobsnyc August 2, 2011

Could have been a great book, but two major flaws

I'd love to give this book more stars, but there are two problems with it. 1 - The "almost-sex" scenes and references are unrealistic. The relationship between Janey and Reeve is sweet and based on friendship - that's great. But the way they consider having sex is much too casual. I listened to this book on CD with my daughters (aged 10 & 11) and to hear that Janey thought she would have sex with Reeve if they were at a better motel was shocking and frankly, not believable. I stopped the CD and talked to my girls about how I thought the author made a mistake there. I may be old fashioned, but I still don't think that girls like Janey go from a sweet kiss in a pile of autumn leaves to considering sex without a bit more relationship development in between. 2 - Books should be complete on their own, even if they are part of a larger series. It's one thing to end with a few questions, but to end with a total cliff-hanger isn't fair. We, the readers, may learn the truth, but we aren't shown how the characters react when they learn the truth. And that's the most important part of the book. So, this book ended without resolution... and that makes me mad.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Parent of a 11 year old Written byMs. D. May 4, 2011

A great book to discuss with your child.

This is an excellent book for parents or teachers to read aloud to 10 - 11 year olds as well. They can leave out the kissing scenes and thoughts of boy-girl relationships. I highly recommend it.
Educator Written bynat7m June 1, 2009

Not appropriate for elementary aged kids

The rating on this website is inaccurate. There is some language in the book, even though none is listed. Also, the rating says mild sexual references. In my opinion "mild" is grossly understated. I would definitely not recommend this book for any child under 13.


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