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BOOKS: Complex kidnapping story balances heartache with hope

"Janie Face to Face." By Caroline B. Cooney. Delacourt, 2013. 352 pp.

About 20 years ago, Caroline Cooney wrote a novel about a teenager who recognizes her face on the side of a milk carton and realizes she has been kidnapped. Cooney went on to write three more books about Janie Johnson and the difficult aftermath of the discovery.

But according to Cooney, fans still wanted two things: a wedding (between Janie and her once-perfect boyfriend, Reeve) and a capture of Hannah (the kidnapper). Cooney attempts both in "Janie Face to Face."

This complex story is told from two points of view in two different time frames.

Janie exists in the present. She's now a college student, attending school in New York City where she can be completely anonymous. She shares her past with no one.

But then, good-looking Michael (a writer) comes into her life. What begins as a romance turns into a stalking. Terrified, Janie seeks the comfort of Reeve, now a sports analyst in North Carolina. One weekend together produces a romantic proposal in the Charlotte airport.

The other storyline follows Hannah the kidnapper. Cooney pries into her mind, allowing readers to follow her twisted logic from the time of the kidnapping to the present. Here, readers see the increasingly disturbed woman who is determined to do more harm.

As the storylines come together, Cooney re-introduces Janie's red-headed siblings, her birth parents and her aging adoptive parents. One of the best subplots deals with Brendan, the sibling whose life is falling apart in an eerie parallel to Hannah's.

Although the ending is slightly over the top, "Janie Face to Face" is an outstanding read. Heartbreak and tension ripple throughout the story, yet hope is the dominant emotion.

Cooney views the Janie books with the same optimism. She writes, "There are still missing children posters, and I still weep for heartbroken parents. But in the Janie books love and integrity save two families and create a new one."

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