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Mistaken Identity

post written by Esther Filbrun

Mistaken Identity by Don & Susie Van Ryn and Newell Colleen & Whitney CerakTitle: Mistaken Identity
Don & Susie Van Ryn and Newell, Colleen, & Whitney Cerak
Major Themes: Christian Living, Medical Stories
When a vanload of students were involved in an accident, with five dead and one girl critically injured, can the families of the victims learn to accept life without their loved ones—and will Whitney’s true identity be found out?

Recently, my brother and I took a trip to the US to visit family and friends. When my aunt and uncle arrived safely after a nine-hour road trip, ready to spend some much-loved family time with us, they told us about a book they had read coming up. Mistaken Identity had been their book of choice, and as they related the first half of the story, I decided it was a book I wanted to read some day, too. When we traveled back with them to spend a couple days at their place before heading on to visit some friends, my aunt and I took turns reading the last half of the story aloud. A couple days later, I read the first half of the story—and thoroughly enjoyed it. This book is very challenging, and a well-written biography.

On April 26, 2006, a vanload of Taylor University students was hit and ripped open by a truck that crossed the median. Five people in the van died, leaving four survivors. Of those, one was critically injured. At the scene of the wreck, one of the girls who had been thrown from the vehicle was identified as Laura Van Ryn because of a purse laying beside her. Whitney Cerak, another girl in the van, was pronounced dead on scene. Laura was sent to the hospital in a coma, with major brain injuries, a broken arm, and a broken leg. The Cerak family buried their eighteen-year-old sister and daughter, but they decided they wouldn’t view her in death, because they didn’t want to always remember her as dead. Five weeks later, Laura began coming out of the coma and when requested to write her name, she wrote “Whitney”. Will the Van Ryns be able to find out who she actually is? Will she be able to live with her real family?

Mistaken Identity is a fascinating story. Following Whitney’s story is both entertaining and challenging—watching the Van Ryns realize who Whitney actually is was neat, but also very sad. The loss—for both families—is hard to watch, but through it all Christ’s light shines true. A testimony to God’s faithfulness through every situation, this book is a great personal read or read aloud.

WARNING: Some scenes, while written discreetly, contain descriptions of injuries and death that some families may not wish to read aloud to their children.

Age Levels:

Read Aloud—Ages 10 – 13, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15, 15 and Above, Adults


Links to buy Mistaken Identity:


Paperback | KindleHardcover | Audio CD (unabridged)


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Accidents, Death, Christian Stories

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