YA Classics – In-betweeners: The Face on the Milk Carton

Another popular theme in YA literature from the 1990s were some pretty heavy real life issues. I like to refer to it as *le grit* as it is extremely gritty in nature and can be a bit startling to someone who is not used to books with these themes or plot devices. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Clooney was first published in 1990 and has plenty of le grit. In fact, the first time I ever read the book in 7th grade I was scarred for weeks. Even thinking about it now kind of gives me the shivers.

The story follows a teenage girl named Janie who sees her own young face on the back of a milk carton one day at lunch. She even distinctly remembers the day the picture was taken and the itchy feeling of the dress. This rude awakening leads her to investigate both her parents and her own history. The idea is a truly shocking one. Many teens who cannot connect with their families might secretly wish to find their “real” family who they more closely resemble, but The Face on the Milk Carton shows that this standard teenage fantasy is not necessarily a dream come true.

The story itself is very intense and dramatic. There is more to it than the discovery of Janie’s roots though. She still is a mostly normal teen with teen desires and life, including friends and a boyfriend. This combination of standard YA literature aspects like the lives of many young adults with the very rough tale of a kidnap victim discovering the truth about her past makes this book a great YA classic. Despite the fact it does not get a great deal of attention in the classroom or even in modern bookstores, it definitely should be a standard read to understand the concept of le grit that formed the basis for many YA books before dystopia and fantasy genres became so popular.


Bring It to Life (BITL)!

Kidnapping is a very real problem in the world today. It still hurts many families every year. The best way to honor this extraordinary YA classic to to help those who suffer from this massive social problem. There are several groups who organize volunteers to help find missing children or help the families cope with losing a child.

Polly Klaas Foundation

Help distribute posters of children missing in your community.

American Association for Lost Children (AAFLC)

Donate to help the organization or volunteer to help find missing children

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Donate personally, host a fundraiser, or join one of their campaigns


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