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Interview: Caroline B. Cooney, author of Janie Face to Face

It's been 23 years since readers first discovered Janie Johnson in Caroline B. Cooney's remarkable novel, THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON. Since that time, three other novels in the series have been published --- WHATEVER HAPPENED TO JANIE, THE VOICE ON THE RADIO and WHAT JANIE FOUND --- but now, JANIE FACE TO FACE concludes the series, answering all the questions fans have about what happened to that girl who recognized herself on the side of a milk carton and realized she had been kidnapped.

In this interview, Caroline B. Cooney explains why she was compelled write the end to the series, her fondness for fan letters (or emails!) and what she is working on now.

It's been over 10 years since WHAT JANIE FOUND was published. What made you want to revisit these characters and write the final book in the series? Have readers been asking for an update on Janie?

My wonderful editor, Beverly Horowitz at Random House, said one day that she still thinks of Janie and Reeve and Janie's two families, and wonders about them. "Perhaps," she said, "you could write a book where they are out of high school and have grown up." I had never done this --- written YA when the characters are older --- and it was a wonderful challenge. Plus, I too could enjoy the company of Janie and Reeve again.

Throughout the series, Janie has struggled with identifying who she really is --- Janie or Jenny? --- and balancing her different families. At the end of JANIE FACE TO FACE, do you think that she found that balance?

Yes, Janie did find her balance. I'm imagine now and then she'll lose it again, or feel queasy or sad about her history, but she had landed where she needs to be.

Janie has been betrayed by loved ones in the past. In this book, the interview requests from the author who wants to write a crime book about the kidnapping seemed like another test for Janie's friends and family. Are these betrayals drawn from experience that real-life victims have been through beyond the actual crime?

Thank goodness everything in all five books is fiction and based on nothing I have experienced. But the determination of reporting media to invade people's lives and the willingness of those people to let them in is a continual source of amazement and shock to me. Janie has chosen what I would choose: silence. But have her friends? Her brothers? Her sister? The media is enticing and to have an eager listener seems often to overrule sense and even love.

What is remarkable about Janie is her positive attitude. Did you purposely develop Janie’s character to have a positive attitude and let people into her life despite what has happened?

I'm pretty upbeat myself. I wake up every morning excited about the day to come, sure the sun will shine and I will see friends. Janie is that kind of person.

Conversely, when we get to read the point of view of Hannah, the kidnapper, she is incredibly negative. Is a correlation between her attitude and how she's lived her life?

Only the worst kind of person would steal a toddler for the fun of it. We have only to look at the horror of Newtown schools to see what a vicious person might do to innocent children. I do not want to glamorize or mitigate the terrible deed of kidnapping. The first four books were not about the crime --- the crime had changed many lives dramatically --- but the story was about what good people do when there is no good thing to do. But my readers consistently have had two demands: they want Reeve and Janie to get married and they want the kidnapper to get hers. There is a wedding in Janie Face to Face --- but is it Janie's to Reeve? And the kidnapper finally is on stage, and given her history, I could not see her as anything but a dark, amoral personality.

Did you want to point out overlooked dangers in this book that trusting teens might miss? For example, I was taken aback by how easy it was for Hannah to get information through Facebook.

I am on Facebook only to see what my three children post and have never myself posted anything. I do think it is remarkable how much others will put on their pages and am reserving judgment about whether this will serve us well. But in JANIE FACE TO FACE, of the hundreds of friends interlinked through Janie or her friends and family, a few have given a monster a path in.

What would you like readers to take away from this final chapter of Janie Johnson series? And we have to ask --- is this is really the end for Janie Johnson? Can you tell us some stories that readers have shared with you through the years about the Janie Johnson series? Are there any that surprised you?

From the beginning I have had many letters from young readers who tell me that they dislike reading, never read if they can avoid it, but THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON was recommended by someone they trusted (sister, librarian, friend) and they actually liked reading it, and they plan to read another book. Letters, and now e-mails, like this have made my life worthwhile. A series has the remarkable benefit that a reluctant reader is not reluctant, because she/he feels safe with the same writer and characters. I had no idea how many kids simply do not wish to read --- although they are perfectly able to read --- they just need a push in the right direction. For my own son, the right direction was nonfiction, any kind of real life adventure or exploration. The surprise to me was that one book could do it, tip a kid into reading. So now my hope is that all of us who love reading will work to choose exactly the right book for exactly the right kid, and keep that kid reading.  If it were to be a Janie Johnson book, I would be honored.

What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

I am researching the children who eventually sail on the Mayflower. Their real  lives, families, sacrifices and adventures are astonishing. Even  their names are astonishing --- boys called Love, Remember and Wrestling. I had not known that the Pilgrims tried twice to escape persecution in England and were caught both times as they tried to sail secretly to Holland. I had not known that when the Pilgrims reached Leyden, Holland, there was such suffering and deprivation. I had not known the extraordinary dramatic background of the four abandoned children on board the Mayflower. I  had not grasped the horror when half the passengers die the first year in America. It is a privilege to write about the Founding Children of America. All I need now is a title! Every one I think of sounds like a textbook