Friday, July 18, 2008

Book Review: Mistaken Identity

After waiting for a couple of months through my library's hold system, I finally got to read Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope. The long wait definitely did not take away from my enjoyment of this book!

Mistaken Identity tells the story of the Van Ryn and Cerak families. Their lives were changed forever on April 26, 2006, when a tragic accident involving their daughters took the life of one and seriously injured the other. Due to the confusion at the scene of the accident, the Ceraks' daughter, Whitney, was mistakenly identified as Laura, the Van Ryns' daughter. The Ceraks were informed that their daughter had died at the scene and were immediately plunged into the grief that all parents fear. Meanwhile, the Van Ryns were summoned to the hospital to the side of the brain-injured girl they were told was their daughter, enduring their own grief as they watched her fight for her life. Although several incidents with Laura seemed strange to the Van Ryns, they attributed the inconsistencies to the accident and subsequent brain injury. After five weeks of caring for the girl they were sure was their daughter, things began happening that raised doubts about Laura's true identity, and the Van Ryns realized that they must take steps to correctly identify this young woman for whom they had been caring. In one heartbreaking day they learned that their own daughter, Laura, was the one who had been killed in the accident, and that the girl in the hospital room whom they had believed was their daughter was actually Whitney Cerak.

From the very beginning of this book, both families give honor to their Lord, Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of their deepest grief, the overriding thought in each family was that God was in control and that they must trust Him in this horrible time just as they had in the good times. I was impressed especially with Whitney's sister, Carly. One of her first thoughts, even as she sobbed over the death of her sister, was "here is the big test. Do you love God even though your sister is dead?" Each of the girls' fathers, at one point or another, found himself facing the questions, "Why my daughter? Why not my daughter?" I saw a lot of myself in Laura's mother, Susie Van Ryn. She was the one who seemed to struggle the most with the events in her life, and who had to cling to the Lord most completely. That's not to say the other family members never struggled with their faith, only that I identified the most with Susie. My heart broke for her as I read of her reluctance to believe that her own daughter was the one who had died in the accident, and later, I was touched as I read how she decided that she must move on with her life. Overall, the testimony of each family throughout the entire book is one of trust in God and the peace that only He can give in our darkest hours.

The only thing that I wish were different about the book is the rather weak presentation of the source of the two families' hope: salvation through Jesus Christ. Both families were clear that their daughters had accepted Christ as their Savior, but there was never a solid presentation of exactly how one does that for himself. The message of faith is a strong testimony and a great comfort for those of us who already are saved, but I believe this story could have been even more influential for Christ had the the way of salvation been more clearly presented.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in reading it, however. It's a beautiful testimony of the Lord's strength in humanity's greatest weakness, the sudden, tragic death of a loved one. I believe the Ceraks' and Van Ryns' story is bringing great glory to God in a day when many people are hardened by life's tragedies. It's a story that is not only amazing in that it happened at all, but in the fact that both families are Christians who agreed to tell the world their story, giving all glory to God.


  1. Wow Susan! Just reading your review of it makes me weep. I don't know if I could make it through a book like that. Can you imagine the overwhelming grief and heartache those poor families dealt with and probably continue to deal with?

  2. I know, Starr! I thought of all that as I was reading, and it really challenged me to be close enough to the Lord that something like that would build my faith rather than destroy it. One of the things the Cerak family did every morning, from the day after they were told their daughter had died, was to have 2 hours in the morning to just read their Bibles, pray, and listen to music - then they faced the day and all it had to hold. I thought that was so amazing. I would probably just want to get into bed and not come out till I had to. But they kept going, kept praising God. So amazing!


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