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Literature / Janie

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The Janie Johnson series is a five-book series by Caroline B. Cooney (Losing Christina) about a young girl named Janie Johnson who sees her own face on a milk carton and realizes that the people who raised her are not her real parents. In fact, she was stolen from her birth family (the Springs) in early childhood and the Springs want her back. The series follows the young Janie in her attempts to figure out the truth about her origins and decide who she wants to be from now on. Will she remain Janie Johnson, living with the family that is not truly hers, or become Jennie Spring and finally bring peace to the family that birthed her? The first and second book in the series were combined into a Made-for-TV Movie in 1995.

The series consists of the following titles:

  • The Face on the Milk Carton (1990)
  • Whatever Happened to Janie (1993)
  • The Voice on the Radio (1996)
  • What Janie Found (2000)
  • Janie Face to Face (2013)

This series provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: For whatever reason, the made for TV Movie changed most of the surnames of the characters. The one who didn't get changed was Reeve Shields.
  • Adults Are Useless: Hannah should have gotten help beyond constant reminders that she had no reason to be unhappy because she had everything she could ever want. It backfired and made her easy prey for a cult.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Reeve continually tries to imagine ways to convince Janie, who is not ready for sex, to change her mind.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Janie wishes that her name wasn't boring, dowdy Janie Johnson. She learns that Janie Johnson is not her birth name and begins to wish for it back when she has to get used to being called "Jennie Spring" in Whatever Happened to Janie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the end, Janie finally gets closure when Hannah is arrested, and she marries Reeve, forgiving him for the missteps in their relationship while accepting her Jennie Spring identity once and for all. The "bitter" part is that the Johnsons can't fully escape the bad publicity of Hannah's actions, while they and the Springs contend with the years that were wasted because of Hannah's manipulations.
  • Changeling Fantasy: An unusual subversion; Janie has a serious crisis of identity when she discovers her real parents.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The TV movie combined the first two books of the series. The remaining three have not been adapted.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Hannah's backstory started off as an impressionable 16-year girl suffering from white guilt who needed parental permission to join a cult. Later on, she was apparently a college student who felt isolated and far from home. Similarly, her motives for kidnapping Janie seem to change from 'cult mission' to 'loneliness' to 'batshit insane' according to the whims of the author.
    • In the fifth installment, we see the kidnapping from Hannah's point of view, and the reason seems to be revenge against her parents, and to some extent Janie herself. It also reveals that Hannah has delusional thoughts. It is possible Hannah has been dealing with an untreated mental illness, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. This would explain why, with the cult acting a catalyst, Hannah transformed from a weird kid to a raving lunatic.
  • Face on a Milk Carton: Janie finds her own picture on the milk carton. This is how the story begins.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Janie is raised by a couple she believes are her parents. As it turns out they believe they are actually her grandparents and she is the daughter of their estranged daughter when in reality, both are incorrect, and she was actually kidnapped from a third, unrelated family.
  • Friendless Background: Apparently, this was Hannah's forte. No one liked her in high school, college, in the cult or before the kidnapping.
  • Gambit Roulette: Janie's wedding is partially a plan to bring Hannah out of hiding so she can be arrested. Similarly, Hannah is posing as a true crime novelist writing a book about the kidnapping so she can try to get revenge on her parents and Janie. For reasons.
  • Good Parents: When the Johnsons learn in book one why Janie was sneaking around and lying, they immediately go This Explains So Much. They encourage her to call the Springs to find out if she's their daughter because helping another bereft family is more important than if they retain custody of Janie. They stay with her through the ups and downs, knowing how conflicted she must be feeling.
  • Hidden Depths: Sarah-Charlotte Sherwood first looks to be a silly self-involved wealthy girl in Janie's circle of friends. As the series goes on, Sarah-Charlotte proves to be a true friend to Janie that helps her weather the crisis. In the fifth book she defends Janie's adoptive parents to the news media doing an update on Janie's story.
  • Long-Runner Tech Marches On: Janie Face to Face as a strange variant. Published nearly 20 years after the previous book in the series, Cooney makes the unorthodox decision to move everything to the present day, rather than follow the continuity of the rest of the series, and not Retcon the rest of the series to fit. It makes for some weird timeline issues. Janie has an iPhone, uses an iPad, and a large part of the plot involves Facebook, but Donna Spring reminisces about when Janie and Reeve first found them in New Jersey—a day five years before the start of this book—back when there was no internet, no cell phones, and no GPS. Which, even if the book were set in 2007, when iPhones first came out, would be a weird thing to say.
  • Make-Out Point: nicknamed "Sexual Overlook."
  • Missing Child: The whole premise: imagine that your toddler daughter/little sister goes missing at the mall. About a decade later, said girl finds her face on a milk carton, recognizing the dress because it was in her family attic. She drums up the courage to call you, and you realize that her kidnapper lied to her parents about who she was; the minute they find out it's possible she was kidnapped, they encourage her to call her biological family, so they can have closure. Janie's biological siblings try to track down Hannah in revenge because Janie admits she's no longer their little sister.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: This is why the Johnsons want Janie to call the Springs and confirm if she is really Jennie. They say that they know the pain of losing a daughter, and that at least it's better knowing if Hannah committed a kidnapping.
  • Plot Allergy: Janie's allergic to milk, but she is curious about trying it. A chance encounter with a milk carton starts the story, and makes her sick for more reasons than the obvious.
  • Raised by Grandparents: The people who raise Janie reveal that they are not her parents, but her grandparents, and that her real mother is their daughter, Hannah. This turns out to be a lie that Hannah told them to make them accept the "replacement daughter" she stole for them.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Janie herself has a few of these questions regarding Hannah kidnapping her as a child. She was three years old, more than old enough to know not to talk to strangers, so why did she go with Hannah when the latter saw her at the mall? Why did her "grandparents" keep the dress that she was wearing, which was proof that she was Jennie Spring?
  • Smithical Marriage: Subverted when Janie goes to a hotel with Reeve.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: In What Janie Found, Janie learns that Mr. Johnson has been paying Hannah regularly for the past few years. Though Janie, Reeve, and her brother react as if it were a betrayal at first, the payments were justifiable that he still cares for Hannah as his daughter despite what she has done, and perhaps he thought it would help keep Hannah from harming another innocent family.
  • This Explains So Much: The Johnsons have this reaction when Janie finally tells them she suspects that Hannah kidnapped her as a toddler, with the dress as proof. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson reason that it would be like Hannah to lie to them that a kidnapped child was her daughter, and she wouldn't think about the consequences. They encourage Janie to call the Springs, to at least find out if it's true.
  • Trilogy Creep: Began as a trilogy, then two new books were added to the series.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The Johnsons reveal that Hannah led them to believe that she gave birth to a daughter, left the cult, and asked them to take care of "Janie". Fearing that the cult would come for them in revenge for Hannah's departure, they moved to another state and changed their surname, which was originally Javensen. Her parents are horrified when they realize that if they had done neither of these things, Jennie Spring would have been reunited with her real family much sooner because they would have seen the disappearance in the papers, putting two and two together.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: Occurs twice in Janie Face to Face, both involving Reeve and Janie. One after Janie dumps a boy who turns out to be hired by Hannah to mess with her and the other after Reeve buys a ring, and is 'forced' to re-propose by an airline pilot.