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Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope    by Don Van Ryn & et al order for
Mistaken Identity
by Don Van Ryn
Order:  USA  Can
Howard, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

In April 2006, a van carrying a load of Taylor University students and staff was involved in an accident. Five people were killed, and one student, identified as Laura Van Ryn, was admitted to the hospital, unconscious and in critical condition. The Van Ryn family rushed to her side, thanking God that she was alive, and praying for her full recovery.

In another part of Indiana, the family of Whitney Cerak was notified that their daughter was killed in the accident. Their grief was incredibly strong and devastating, but they never wavered from their belief that God was ultimately good and would support them through any trial. They worshipped God and knew without a doubt that they would see Whitney again in heaven.

As five weeks passed, the Van Ryns were encouraged by Laura's improvements. She gradually woke up and was beginning to communicate, although there was some significant physical and some mental damage. One day in therapy, the therapist received some bizarre answers from Laura, and when asked to write her name, she wrote W-H-I-T-N-E-Y. The two girls had been mistakenly identified as each other, due to their tremendous physical similarities. Mistaken Identity follows the story through, giving insights from both sides of the situation, and revealing God's grace and mercy throughout.

Mistaken Identity is a gripping tale, almost too incredible to believe, but well documented and definitely true. Parents reading the story will feel the anguish, and identify with both the Van Ryn family and the Cerak family. Their faith is a solid part of who they are, and although many non-Christians might find their faith heavy handed throughout the narrative, it is obviously such a part of their being that they cannot separate from it, and therefore it doesn't feel preachy.

I found the writing to be a bit disjointed, which took me out of the story a few times. The way the tale is laid out has us discovering at the beginning that Whitney is still alive, then going back into the story to see what happened from the day of the accident forward. It felt really funny reading about Whitney's family's grieving process and all of the myriad details about her funeral, when at the beginning we know that she's alive. Not that we didn't know already - from the front of the book or from the news stories - but since we already know within the course of the narrative it felt strange to read about those details. I am also not sure they were entirely necessary.

I was very encouraged at the way these two families have come together and embraced each other in the midst of their pain. Their faith was also incredibly inspirational to me. I found Mistaken Identity to be a worthwhile read, and one that will cause the reader to stop and think about the fragility of life and the importance of family.

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