In looking over the ALA list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009 I keep running across books that surprise me. I can understand why people object to some of the books (to quote Homer Simpson, "Just because I don't care, doesn't mean I don't understand!") Others, though, just boggle the mind. (A Wrinkle in Time? I want to know who was smoking what when they decided Meg Murry posed a threat to society!)
The Face on the Milk Carton (29th on the list) by Caroline B. Cooney is one of those that puzzles me. The storyline is deceptively simple. Janie Johnson is an only child. A high school student, her life is a good one. Her parents are almost too good to be true. Her greatest worries are English, boys, and her desire for a more exotic name - until she sees a familiar picture on a milk carton.
"The girl on the carton was an ordinary little girl. Hair in tight pigtails, one against each thin cheek. A dress with a narrow white collar. The dress was white with tiny dark polka dots.
Something evil and thick settled on Janie, blocking her throat, dimming her eyes. "Sarah-Charlotte," she said. She could hear herself shouting Sarah-Charlotte's name, yet her lips were not moving; she was making no sound at all.
She reached toward Sarah-Charlotte's sleeve, but her hand didn't obey. It lay motionless on top of the carton. It looked like somebody else's hand; she could not imagine herself wearing that shade of nail polish, or that silly ring.
"You drank my milk," accused Sarah-Charlotte.
"It's me on there," Janie whispered. Her head hurt. Was the milk allergy already setting in? Or was she going insane? Could you go insane this fast? Surely it took years to lose your mind.
She imagined people losing their minds the way you might lose a penny, or your car keys--accidentally dropping your mind in the cafeteria.
"On where?" said Peter.
"The girl on the back of the carton," whispered Janie. How flat her voice sounded. As if she had ironed it. "It's me."
She remembered that dress . . . how the collar itched . . . remembered the fabric; it was summer fabric; the wind blew through it . . . remembered how those braids swung like red silk against her cheeks."
Janie's discovery shatters everything she knows about herself. The rest of the book is about the conflict between her desire to preserve the life she has always known, and her returning memories that make the familiar into something strange and threatening.
I think of Sia's Breathe Me, when I think of Janie's confusion. The melancholic, sorrowful feel of the music fits Janie as well as the lyrics.
"Ouch, I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found,
Yeah, I think that I might break
I've lost myself again and I feel unsafe"
The Face on the Milk Carton is an excellent book. Why is it considered controversial? If someone knows, enlighten me, please!
Book: The Face on the Milk Carton, Caroline B. Cooney
Music: Breathe Me, Sia