So, a million years later, the girl who had the face on the milk carton is back. Janie has another story to tell to finish up, called Janie Face to Face.
Sadly, though I thought that series was pretty sweet when I was a kid, I’m unimpressed. And since YA veers towards the mature these days, I don’t think teens of today are going to be all that excited, either. This book is a younger YA about a girl in college, aka nowhereland. This book’s entire market is going to be the nostalgia one, and it’s not going to be fun even then. Because this book is just plain not very good.
The original series started in 1990, which is when I assume they actually put lost kids on milk cartons, because I certainly did not drink face milk when I was in elementary school starting around 1993. So this final book should take place, actually, around the time I started kindergarten. But all of a sudden it takes place now, which means that, like so many Lois Duncan rewrites, Cooney has thrown in random, awkward, and clearly out of touch references to Facebook, cell phones, and, of all things, e-readers. Constant references to e-readers, my friends. As if people don’t read books. And as if anybody with an e-reader talks about it constantly.
So. The story starts when Janie goes off to college. I have to admit I didn’t have the time this semester to reread the whole series, so I just familiarized myself with synopses and quick reviews. So maybe I’m incorrect, but I don’t think the original books were so religious, and this one has tons of mentions of church and wondering whether G-d approves, and on and on. That’s neither here nor there as far as the objective quality of the book, but I’m certainly not a fan of random religion in books. Once Janie is in college, she talks a lot about technology, awkwardly, and how actually all the previous books took place in about 2008-now and so all of her new-old brothers and sisters have been forced their whole lives to carry around cell phones so that they, too, don’t get kidnapped. Then she decides that since she is so confused about her identity, the absolute best way to jump start her life is to get married at 19 to the boy next door (literally). And what could be a really great literary moment (i.e. what could be a chance to craft a compelling story about what it means for girls of today to think that getting married is the only way to have an identity at all or that they should always accept their first love even if he totes betrayed her in book four) is just nothing except planning a shotgun wedding.
Seriously. This final book in what was a cool series for kids (I never felt it to be YA when I was a child reading it, and I certainly don’t think it is now – I hope it’s not being marketed that way) is about a shotgun wedding. Hip. Hip. Hooray. Meh.
This book doesn’t work. Nothing about it works, because it is yet another book, after all of the reissued Lois Duncans and Elizabeth George’s horrendously but hilariously misinformed foray into YA, that thinks all you have to do to take place in 2012 is have a cell phone and talk like it’s still the 80s. First, Janie’s original story never would have happened if she were a few years younger than I am instead of much older, because there is way too much security, Internet, DNA, and fingerprinting of children these days for that shizz, not to mention helicopter parenting. Also, as I mentioned, at least in my part of the country, I never in my life saw a missing child on a milk carton. They even stopped the junk mailers with age advancing technology pictures years ago. Today there are amber alerts.
Second, this book doesn’t work because it’s written at too low a level to be interesting to people who would care at all about what a freshman in college is doing with her life. And it’s not exactly a hi/lo title. Nothing happens in this book at all, and you don’t get to say it’s a character-driven novel because Janie has nothing going on. She makes Bella Swan look like a complex protagonist, and we all know that girl is a shell.
I’m so disappointed. And now I’m going to have to write an entire blog post berating publishers who want to insult their original readers and their new ones by forcing their not-bad authors to become bad writers by reissuing their old books and thinking that they have to throw Facebook in them. It’s okay to write things that don’t take place today, ya’ll. People will still read them, and they’ll like them a lot more than things with dated language and customs and anachronistic social media.
Fail, Random House. Fail, Caroline B. Cooney.