If you’ve watched any MTV over the past few weeks, you’ve undoubtedly seen the trailers for their latest scripted show, Finding Carter, the story of a teenager who is told that she’s a childhood victim of kidnapping, and her mother isn’t actually her mother after all, despite the closeness of their bond. We’ve seen this premise before in Abduction, the action flop that attempted to make Taylor Lautner a movie star and roped in a half dozen respectable actors in the process. But before Abduction and long before Finding Carter, there was The Face on the Milk Carton, a YA-before-YA-was-a-thing series that detailed the exact same plot Finding Carter is currently teasing.
Written by maestro of terrifying middle schoolers, Caroline B. Cooney, The Face on the Milk Carton follows Janie Johnson, a regular fifteen-year-old enjoying the early '90s, who then sees her picture on a milk carton’s “Missing Child” section in the cafeteria at lunch, a scene stolen almost to the letter by Abduction, if you sub out online “wanted” posters for milk cartons. Immediately, her life turns upside down, flipping from a Sweet Valley High storyline to a Sweet Valley Super Special Mystery storyline.
Without the help of computers, Janie and her cute neighbor Reeve (yes, there is plenty of time for flirting in between shocking revelations) do their research the old fashioned way, with newspapers, hidden boxes in attics, and Ned Stark-ian jumping to conclusions based on hair color. Eventually they find the Springs, Janie’s birth family.
The books go on from there to more drama-filled territory, especially once Janie moves back in with the Johnsons to help discover the fate of Hannah, their biological daughter and her kidnapper. Reeve reveals Janie’s secrets on his local college radio station, seriously jeopardizing their relationship, and they find Hannah, whose checkered past makes her more of a threat than an ally. The first two books in the series were adapted into a good-bad TV movie that can be found many places, including YouTube. Kellie Martin of ER and Army Wives fame plays Janie to emotional teenager perfection.
Check it out if you’re curious to see the many ways that Finding
Carter could go completely off the rails. But even if the show sticks to its own story and doesn't borrow from any of its predecessors, there's plenty of potential for soapy goodness.