Janie’s two families appear to have made peace. Life seems almost normal. She’s even decided to speak to her former boyfriend, Reeve, again. But then Janie’s Connecticut father suffers a sudden stroke, and this tragedy leaves her mother reeling. Janie must step in to manage family finances and to support her mother emotionally. While handling her father’s business matters, Janie discovers an undeniable fact that could destroy both of her beloved families. And she alone must decide what to do.
This is the fourth book in the Janie Johnson series and may contain spoilers for the first three books.
It’s been many years since I last read any of the books in this series. I remember the first book, The Face on the Milk Carton, making a big impression on me. I probably read it around the time it came out, and I vaguely remember the TV movie starring Kellie Martin too. How horrific would it be to see your own face as a missing kid on a milk carton, to realize that the parents who raised you aren’t your biological parents after all, to find out that they are the parents of the woman who kidnapped you, and to learn that your biological parents and siblings are out there waiting for you to come home to a house and a life you don’t remember?
That’s what happened to Janie. That’s part of what happened to Janie.
Now Janie’s father, the one who raised her as his own, has had a stroke and is lying in the hospital, in and out of Intensive Care. Janie’s mother is too fragile and knows nothing about money or bills, so it falls to Janie to take care of their finances. I’m not sure why a 16 or 17 year old girl would be expected to know any more than her mother about household bills, but someone has to do it. While going through her father’s desk, she finds a folder containing information that will let her take control of a life that’s spun out of control ever since that day she found her face staring back at her from the milk carton.
The best parts of the book happen in the last half, once Janie, her brother Brian Spring, and Janie’s ex-boyfriend/next-door neighbor Reeve travel to Boulder, Colorado, to stay with Janie and Brian’s brother Stephen. The descriptions of Boulder made me want to visit and see if it’s really like that. The people of Colorado are depicted as being very outdoorsy, which I’ve heard before, and it sounds like the perfect place for me. The natural scenery is probably amazing, too.
Janie, Brian, and Reeve are on a mission, but they don’t want anyone else to know their plans. Brian and Reeve are only along to take care of Janie, who really doesn’t want them there at all. The boys stay in Stephen’s dorm and Janie stays with Stephen’s girlfriend Kathleen, who is is extremely rude, asking questions of Janie and even Stephen that she has no right to be asking. The girl seems to have no filter. Who wouldn’t be curious about what happened to Janie and want to know every detail? But it doesn’t take much common sense to know that you don’t start asking someone about being kidnapped five minutes after meeting her, which is exactly what Kathleen does. I’m sure there are people like that in real life, but it makes Kathleen seem a little over the top. She’s the only character in the book I don’t care for, although I remember not liking at least some of Janie’s siblings much in prior books. I’m pretty sure Stephen is one of them, but I guess he’s grown up since leaving for college and getting away from his family’s suffocating existence.
(That’s not being mean about his family. From what I remember, the left behind Spring siblings were watched like a hawk after their sister Jennie (renamed Janie) disappeared. That’s understandable, but it couldn’t have been an easy life for them. It’s normal for kids to want some independence, especially as they get older, but the Spring parents just couldn’t take the risk, no matter how small, of losing another child.)
At the time this book was written (around 2000, so there are some dated references to things like pay phones), I think it was billed as the finale of the series. There have since been two more books and I look forward to reading them just to complete the series. I can see how this book could have wrapped things up, but I’m also left wanting more.