Saturday, April 4, 2009

What Janie Found

[Ed's Note: I know you guys mostly wanted another Babysitters Club book, but I have to, have to, have to get these last few Caroline B. Cooney books out of the apartment and back to the library where they belong. But I'll try to recap a BSC book one next.]

Brief Synopsis:

At last! I'm done with recapping The Face on the Milk Carton series! We open in medias res--Janie's father (Mr. Johnson) has just had a stroke and is in the hospital, unconscious. Janie's instructed to look over the family finances and discovers a dirty little secret. It's not that exciting--turns out Hannah's still alive, living in Boulder, CO and oh yeah, Mr. J is still in contact with her. He sends her money every three months, even though she's technically wanted for kidnapping. Mrs. J is still under the impression they have no idea where Hannah is. So Janie, with the help of former boyfriend Reeve and her New Jersey brother Brian, has to decide whether to keep supporting Hannah or to track her down and sic the Feds on her.

She goes to CO to visit her biological brother, Stephen, who's away at college. Her plan, at first, is to try to meet with Hannah. She navel gazes for a few chapters, then just decides to empty the account devoted to paying off Hannah. That is, she gives it all to Hannah. Her rationale is that this way she can be rid of her. Telling the FBI would just destroy her family. Well, more so. There's also a subplot involving Stephen's girlfriend, Kathleen and her dad. (Kathleen and Stephen enjoy bike rides, long mountain hikes and raising their body metabolisms. Ah, Colorado.) On with the snark!
  • What does Janie find out? Not a damned thing, as far as I'm concerned. Hannah, why can't you join one of those cults where they do a mass suicide? Eat a spiked Twinkie, hitch a ride on Haley's comet, I don't care. Just stop showing up in every book only to disappear at the end. Caroline B., it's such a cocktease the way you keep sprinkling Hannah in front of my nose and then yanking her away. And by cocktease, I mean it's as tempting as the fatter, deader, maggottier version of Anna Nicole Smith gyrating on the lap of a confirmed homosexual.
  • So Janie's dad has a stroke. Yeah, I saw what you did there, CaroB., making it so that Janie's dad is sick enough that it's an EXCITING INCIDENT (someone was taking notes at the last Writers' Workshop Conference!). But you also made him unconscious so you didn't actually have to write him any dialogue. That's almost literary. You almost get to join the pantheon of R.L. Stine and Ann M. Martin. Almost.
  • As I mentioned, Mr. Johnson is in the hospital, busily dying and whatnot. And Mrs. J. is so incompetent (well, except at cake decorating and serving on committees) that their teenage daughter has to go through the family finances? Janie, I changed my mind. Go back to the Springs and leave Stepford mommy behind. I'm not kidding about the cake decorating, by the way. In the first book, Janie takes a class in decorating cakes with her mother because that's what you do to fill the hours in suburban Connecticut. I'm assuming that if Mrs. Johnson did find out about Hannah, her first line of defense would be to decorate a cake. No, not actually bake a cake. Just decorate one.
  • Turns out that Kathleen's dad is an FBI agent and Stephen gets all freaked out that the Feds are stalking him or something. If you guessed that this plot point involves Stephen deciding to break up with Kathleen because she cheated on him, but her father saying that he'll give Stephen confidential information about Hannah as long as he stays with're wrong. What's the matter with you? This is the series where NOTHING HAPPENS. Do you really think CaroB. wanted to take herself out of the running for Guinness Book of World Records Entry for "Longest Series Where Nothing Really Changes"? The point of Kathleen's dad being an FBI agent is...I have no idea.
  • When Kathleen hears the story of Janie from Stephen at dinner, she's positively drooling over it. (And later, she wants Janie to tell her every minute detail about the kidnapping.) Kathleen, put on a fake weave, stop working out so damned much, and let your ass go big--if Nicole in Whatever Happened to Janie? was Nancy Grace, you can be Tyra Banks. Except you didn't yell at Janie enough for not expressing her emotions and you didn't talk about how when you were kidnapped, it was by twelve Hare Krishna runaways but you still worked your magic and let your smile go all the way to your eyes.
  • Kathleen (and Stephen himself in earlier novels) makes a big deal out of how Janie actually went to go live with the Johnsons, and was gauche enough to want to be called Janie (not Jennie)--Janie was her KIDNAP name. This is reminding me of that Greg the Bunny episode where Greg renounces his "fleshie" name in favor of his Puppish name. Can I watch that episode instead of reading this book? Please? Okay, back to business. Guys, it's a one vowel difference. Would you be happier if she decided to spell it Jennie but pronounce it Throatwarbler Mangrove?
  • I'm a little surprised that Janie left to go to Colorado (using the college tour thing as an excuse) when her father was in such dire straits. What happens if dear old dad kicks the bucket and Mama Johnson has to pick out funeral attire by herself? You'll come back to Connecticut to find hundreds of decorated Entenmann's pound cakes all over the house and a decomposing corpse in the basement. Seriously, let's get this woman a new hobby. To the Build-a-Bear Workshop, Jeeves! (Yeah, I was actually talking about CaroB.)
  • There's a detail about Janie wanting cowboy boots and the rest of the gang dutifully trooping into a pawnshop. Then she can't afford to both buy plane tickets home and pay for boots (bitch, it's called flying coach!) so she pouts and Stephen gets all magnanimous and buys her the boots. Yes, Stephen Spring, the college student from a working class Jersey family. Stephen counts out his money in grease stained one dollar bills earned working construction, Janie dances around in her cowboy boots. I hum a few bars from Darkness on the Edge of Town and wonder why Janie couldn't have skimmed a few dollars off the top from her "Kidnapping Checking Account." Or at least have guilted her ex boyfriend from an Old Money Connecticut family into paying instead. You know, the one standing right next to Janie, wondering how he can make up for his past gaffe and get into firecrotch's pants again?
  • Janie gets into a snit because of how her father is supporting her kidnapper. Okay, she's probably right--that's fucked up and your dad probably broke a few laws. But Janie also acts as though she's jealous because it means her dad loved her less than he loved Hannah. If it makes you feel any better, Janie, you're probably getting the better deal. Hundreds of sweaters you don't need, a huge sleepwear collection, fancy trips to Disney World on your birthday. Sure, Hannah got to join a cult, but it was an ass backward fashion challenged cult--the Hare Krishnas aren't cool. It's not like she got to be a Moonie.
  • About Kathleen. She's irritating. Janie stays in her dorm room when the east coast trio visits. She's incredibly insensitive when it comes to rehashing Janie's kidnapping past. She asks questions that close relatives shouldn't, let alone near strangers. But the worst part is that she also wakes her guest up to go on a five mile run at 6 AM. Hey, I love eschewing carbohydrates and burning calories as much as the next average American girl, but bitch, don't encroach on my sleep time--just don't even.
  • So, during the mini marathon, Janie manages to ditch Kathleen to stake out the post office where Hannah has a P.O. box. (Kathleen runs off, unseen for a few more pages--possibly to go check out a pro-ana board.) Janie sits down on a bench outside the post office. A middle aged woman sits down next to her, and Janie realizes that this MIGHT be her kidnapper. She stares at the ground. Is it Hannah? Goddamnit, it's NEVER LUPUS--I mean, it's never Hannah. You didn't find Hannah in New York City in Whatever Happened to Janie? and it wasn't her calling in to the radio show in The Voice on the Radio. Janie looks away, the middle aged woman leaves, I pop a No-Doze and it's on with the show!
  • Kathleen starts calling Janie a "kidnapette." And referring to her as "Janie-Jennie." No, if you really want to piss her off, throw her in the back of your SUV and scream, "Hey Janie, stop kidnapping yourself, stop kidnapping yourself!" Hey, it satisfied the five year old in me.
  • Oh, gawd, and Janie, Bri and Reeve seem to think their idea of getting Hannah out of their lives is so brilliant. Reeve tells them to pay off all the money to Hannah. That's not really any less depraved than giving her money four times a year, but okay. I'll go with it. Reeve's reasoning is Janie is unkidnapping herself. Then Brian's all, "How will Hannah know what she means?" And...oh, here's the ingenius part. They--ah, I'm bowled over by it. They decide to write her a note letting her know. Wow. Guys, I think that's JUST crazy enough to work. And why does Janie need to "buy herself back," anyway? She just manipulated a poor college student into buying her a pair of boots and she's still in high school. I think she's doing just fine.
  • Do you at least want to know if Mr. Johnson survives the stroke? Well, you've been reading this far--might as well find out, even though he's pretty much the least interesting character in this saga. Oh, wait, you forgot and thought you were reading a book with the concept of closure. I think at this point, not even CaroB. cared what happened to any of them. So no, we don't know. I've never seen a series where the creator just threw up their hands and said, "Screw it, I'm bored, let's just stop" so flagrantly. Well...okay, The Sopranos. (But at least there, I can lie to myself and say it had artistic merit or something. And only because I still worship at the altar of David Chase.)

Okay, let's just pretend that this story was the imaginings of some bored network executive who needed to come up with some teen related WB show ("Uh...think Seventh Heaven meets 90210 meets the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case except she's a redhead and not Mormon") because that's the only way I can excuse how awful this entire series was. But on the bright side, I can say a fond good-bye to all these lovable characters. Adieu, Janie "She's been living in her white bread world" Johnson. Reeve, here's hoping you either get some nookie or actually make some money off of dating and living next door to a kidnapette (aww, now I'm doing it, too!). And Mr. Johnson, I hope you--ah, I can't even pretend to care anymore.