Book Review: Mistaken Identity

I had seen the book Mistaken Identity on bookshelves, but hadn’t really looked at it. I thought it was fiction, and I had read other fiction books with a mistaken identity plot line, and, though they were interesting reads, there was still an air of unreality about them. This couldn’t really happen, at least not to this extent where closest family members are mistaken.

But it can. And it did.

I caught an interview with the families on one of the evening news magazine programs, and my heart was knit to theirs as their faith shined through their tragedies. I then went out and bought the book as soon as possible.

Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak were among several university students riding in a van back to school after working at a banquet when they were all involved in a horrific accident. Five people died, and Laura was taken to the hospital with several broken bones and a traumatic brain injury. Only it wasn’t Laura: it was Whitney. She was misidentified based on a nearby purse with Laura’s driver’s license in it. Though at first glance the girls look different enough to tell apart, when you look at individual features, they share an uncanny resemblance. Laura’s family had no reason to believe this girl was not Laura, and all the little inconsistencies could be explained by the accident (calling her sister by four different names, for instance, was consistent with the type of brain injury she had). Whitney’s family had chosen not to see her body; they wanted to remember her as she was.

It was not until five weeks later, when Whitney was able to communicate a little more clearly, that they realized she had been misidentified. The Ceraks were at first unbelieving but then overjoyed to find their daughter alive while the Van Ryns had to come to terms with their daughter’s death, and they all had to deal with unwelcome media attention during these events.

What touched my heart even more than their stories was the way their faith was evident at every turn. The Scriptures shared at various junctures perfectly upheld them, though of course it did not take away from the pain they experienced. Their grace in dealing each each other, the truck driver who caused the accident, and everyone along the way is evidence of God’s grace in their lives.

In Isobel Kuhn’s book, In the Arena, she quotes I Corinthians 4:9 (“For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men”) and explains that Paul probably had in mind the Roman arena where Christians were thrown in to be devoured by wild animals. Our trials great and small can have multiple purposes, but, she says, one of them surely is to reveal God, His power, character, and grace as it is worked out in His people’s lives (not only to people, both believers and unbelievers, but to “principalities and powers in heavenly places“) . I often think of that when I hear news stories that have captivated the nation and then find out that the people involved are Christians.

One of the paragraphs that most grabbed me was a journal entry by Carly, Whitney’s sister, before she knew that Whitney was still alive:

Death is Satan’s greatest way to attack this world. Amazingly, then God takes what Satan uses to attack us and uses it to bring us together and reveal Himself the most. Through Satan’s greatest strength, God’s power still overcomes and is stronger.

I had never thought of death in that way, but it is so true that even at Satan’s strongest point, God overcame not only to resurrect those who have died but to provide immeasurable comfort to those who are left behind.

I highly recommend this book to you.

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11 thoughts on “Book Review: Mistaken Identity

  1. This story sounds amazing.

    I’m going to put it on my list for a time when I’m prepared for a story that gets past the surface, and into where we really live — our fears and hopes for our children, and how much trust in God we really have.

  2. I’ve read this book – I purchased it earlier in the summer for our Christian school library. It was a great read, and the students will be checking it out often this fall.

  3. Hi Barbara, what you quoted about death reminds me of Hebrews 2:14-15:
    “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

  4. I read that book awhile back — quite a story isn’t it?! I felt sO sorry for BOTH families… but especially the Van Ryns… they thought they had been lucky enough to have Laura survive. PLUS they went through all the dealing with getting her through the accident and the whole hospital mess — only THEN to learn that it wasn’t their daughter…. Ugh! But you’re right – they are both strong Christian families and God has been with them all!

  5. Wow! I didn’t know their story was written down. I would SO LOVE to read this! Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I was fascinated with the story when it was unfolding. Sounds like they have a powerful testimony to share.

  6. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: August 2, 2008 at Semicolon

  7. I recently read this book and chose it, before actually reading it, as my choice for my book club this past month. I had heard briefly about this bizarre incident of mistaken identity and wondered as many, I’m sure, how something like this could happen, so I was anxious to read and see how it could indeed happen. I understand now how this could and did happen. As a parent my heart ached and cried, as a sibling, I hurt and felt the loss of the friendship and closeness you have with a sister. My sympathies and encouragement to the Van Ryn family – I can only imagine your loss, but your eyes on the Lord and His amazing healing. For the Cerak family, thank you for sharing your story along with the Van Ryn’s. What a truly remarkable story.

  8. Pingback: 31 Days of Inspirational Biography: A Short List of Several | Stray Thoughts

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