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Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  8,089 ratings  ·  969 reviews
Meet Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak: one buried under the wrong name, one in a coma and being cared for by the wrong family.

This shocking case of mistaken identity stunned the country and made national news. Would it destroy a family? Shatter their faith? Push two families into bitterness, resentment, and guilt?

Read this unprecedented story of two traumatized
Kindle Edition, 290 pages
Published March 25th 2008 by Howard Books (first published 2008)
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Kaitie Evans It's been a few years since I read this book, but I'm pretty sure it was because of the horrific accident they were both unreconsiable and Whitney's…moreIt's been a few years since I read this book, but I'm pretty sure it was because of the horrific accident they were both unreconsiable and Whitney's wallet was found near Laura.
It explains it in the book - give it a read. With tissues near by. (less)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,089 ratings  ·  969 reviews

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Start your review of Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope
The central question of this short book was never answered. Two girls from good Christian families (much is made of this, but I can't see how the book would have been any different - other than even thinner - if they'd been atheists) were in a car crash. One was killed and buried without her parents ever seeing her presumably-mangled body. The other lived but was in a coma.

The two girls had been the same age, both blue-eyed blondes and from the pictures, quite similar-looking. There was even a
Apr 06, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not what I expected at all. I was really excited to read this book- I love true stories, and what a crazy chain of events that led one family to believe that they were caring for this girl who is their daughter, sister, friend.. only to find out after 5 weeks that their daughter died in the car accident, and this is a girl they don't even know. And the other family, thinking their daughter is dead, holding a funeral and burial for her, only to find out 5 weeks later that she is alive. How does ...more
Sep 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I made the mistake of reading some of the other reviews before writing my own. I am shocked by the insensitiviy and callousness of some people. It's one thing to not like the book, it's another to criticize and condemn people who have suffered through this. It seems to be a recurring theme for me lately.
Anyway, I started reading this book last night and finished it this morning. Many times I was brought to tears and inspired by the love and devotion people can have for one another. There is a
Sep 26, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was drawn to this story after seeing part of an interview on Oprah. As an avid reader of true life stories I was interested in founding out more about this tragic event. Instead I got more of a lesson on the family's version of Christianity. I am sure that the families involved are all lovely people who then shared a tragedy that I could not imagine. I also have a daughter the same age as Whitney so I felt I may have connected with the story in some way. However this book was not well written ...more
Natalie Vellacott
This book was definitely worth reading but left me with a strange feeling afterwards. A group of teens are in a serious car accident. One girl survives and ends up in a critical condition in hospital. Another of the girls dies. Somehow there is a mix-up and the wrong family is notified that their daughter is in the hospital. The family with the surviving daughter are notified mistakenly that their daughter has died and start the grieving process.

This is when the story becomes almost
May 27, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, 2008
The story itself is fascinating - I remember it from the news when it happened, and as soon as I saw there was a book about it, I knew I had to read about it from the families' views.

But, but, but. Ugh. I would have LOVED the book if it hadn't been so preachy. I'm a religious person, but I don't believe in the same way that they do. And that was like 3/4 of the book...

I can understand that they used prayer and their faith as the way to son was in the hospital and I did too. But it was
Aug 19, 2008 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 28, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was an amazing story about this crazy event. The thing that got me to read it was the prologue.

Here's a quote from the prologue: "The story of how two girls, Laura Van Ryn and WhitneyCerak, could be mistaken for each other may seem fantastic and unbelievagle, yet that's not the real story here. This book is really about how God has sustained two families through His grace. We hope after al that is said on these pages, you see it is really all about Him."

I was amazed at the faith
Lindsay Downing
Apr 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is absolutely touching. Be prepared to cry!
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite part: "At the end of the movie, Hank's character says to Private Ryan with his dying breath something like, "Earn this." It's like he's telling Private Ryan to do something so special with his life that it will make other soldiers' deaths worth it. That's the kind of how I felt when people told me how God must have some great purpose in mind for me. I started to think that if I didn't do something amazing with my life, then I was letting God and everyone in the accident down.

One day
Kyleigh M
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is phenomenal. I read it in one day because I just couldn't put it down. My mom had read it before me and then recommended it to me on Friday 10/12. The book was filled with so much grief and so much hope. I really don't know any other way to put it. I just couldn't believe this book was a true story. When a tractor-trailer truck crosses a road at an intersection and hits a college van with 9 people in it, 4 students and 1 staff member are announced dead. The story follows 2 families ...more
SUMMARY: This ia a non-fiction book covering the Taylor University tragedy in which 5 people were killed in an auto accident and one survived in critical condition. Due to circumstances, the survivor was identified as Laura Van Ryn and it isn't until 6 weeks later that they realize that the young woman is in reality Whitney Cerak. Incredible story of two families who have a deep abiding faith and the journey they traveled.

REVIEW: This story has a personal connection for me and I found it very
Aug 04, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a true story about a horific accident involving a semi-truck and a college van in which several people were killed. The story focuses on two of the girls--Whitney Cerak, the one who died and the other, Laura Van Ryn, who did not. When the accident first happened, Laura was severely injured and her head was completely bandaged up. Her blond hair was poking out through the bandages and her eyes were blue so how would anyone know that it was not really Laura? Once the the bandages came off ...more
Laurie Armstrong
Mar 27, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the university students who were in a bus accident. Many died and two girls were mixed up. One family thought their daughter was dead and buried her. The other stayed by what they thought was their daughters' side only to discover she wasn't their daughter and that their daughter had actually been buried.

Both families have a very strong faith and it overpowered the book. I didn't actually read the entire book. I had to skim through the first half as it was a bit over the top
Jessie Hansell
Jun 19, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I expected this book to be full of emotion and truth. While the book was inspirational, I had no opportunity to truly understand the families because we were given one side of all of them - a positive side. While I admire both families' strength, I know that there had to be some darkness given such a difficult situation. I would have felt more connected to all of them if that was shared.

This picture perfect tale of a heart-wrenching event left me void of emotion. Not at all what I was expecting.
Jan 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
You probably remember this story from the news: a van carrying a group of students from Taylor University is involved in a horrible crash with five dead. After 5 weeks, it is discovered that there had been an error in identification, and that Laura Van Ryn, whose family had been by her side 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, was actually Whitney Cerak.

Let that sink in a minute. The Cerak family had buried "Whitney" weeks earlier, and her mother, Colleen, gets a phone call at 2:00 a.m. saying that
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rarely have I read such a page-turner. Have a look at the premise behind this true story and you can see how hard it would be to put down.

The book begins with the usual prologue "in media res," or in the middle of the action. Then it backs up to a time before the tragic accident that led to a victim who survived the accident being mistaken for one who did not, and vice versa. The family of the survivor had a funeral and buried a body (which they had not seen, wishing to remember her the way she
John Pastirzyk
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One would think they could recognise their own daughter, right? Mistaken Identity by Don Van Ryn, Susie Van Ryn, Newell Cerak, Colleen Cerak, Whitney Cerak, and Mark A. Tabb, is a nonfiction book that illustrates the remarkable events that led to two families coming together. Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn both went to the same college and both were in a fatal accident on a school trip. The police identified that Whitney had died and that Laura was found unconscious on the scene. Laura was sent ...more
Roger Bailey
I clearly remembered hearing about this case of mistaken identity in news broadcasts and when I came across this book I thought it would be interesting to learn something about the details of the case. I got the details and it could have been really interesting. The problem was that the book was filled with religious preaching. I detest religion and I detest books that push the superstitious nonsense. As I read it I kept thinking that I might give it a star for actually telling the story that I ...more
May 08, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an unbelievable story! A van carry several college students was hit head-on by a semi, and 5 of the students died. One girl (Whitney) was thrown 50 feet from the van, and became comatose. The purse of another girl (Laura) was found next to her. After looking at the drivers license, the authorities assumed that she was the girl in the photo. In reality, the girl who the purse actually belonged to was one of the students who was killed. So, Whitney, the girl who was comatose, was believed ...more
Sep 09, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What grabbed my interest in reading this book was the fact that it was written by the family of the accident victims. Unfortunately, this also lead to he main reason for disliking the book. I expected that faith would be extensively discussed, in regards to grief, throught the book. Both families are religious and its natural for them to turn towards their faith during difficult times.

However, faith ended up being a heavier topic than the actual accident, IMO. The faith of the families was
Jul 13, 2008 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pretty much nobody
Recommended to Greenyogurt by: found at library
It was okay. I was interested enough to finish it, but I couldn't really suggest it in good faith. There are way more interesting things to be reading.

What I learned from this book is that I still have issues with people who are very religious, and should not be face to face with them for too long, as at some point they will mention their faith and then I will roll my eyes, and then they will be offended.
Oct 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just saw an interview of some of the family members with Matt Lauer on the 3 year anniversary of the accident. He said two things that impressed me: 1. Many people are moved by the story of the family, but the most moving part of their story is their faith. 2. He has interviewed many families over the years, but he has been more impressed with these two families than by any other families he has ever interviewed. What a testimony!

If you haven't read this book yet, you must!
Debra Johnson oliver
I kept wondering how could you not know your own child and yet when the only other possibility is that that child is gone forever I understand seeing what you want to be true. My heart aches for both families and yet I find reading a book that quotes scripture throughout and praises God even in the storm to be uplifting and inspiring. Thank you Van Ryns and Ceraks for sharing this journey.
May 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was EXCELLENT!!! Very spiritual. It really made me think about my faith. These families showed me that God really does have a plan for all of us and that you can get through anything if you rely on God.
Jun 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm surprised at all the reviewers who were upset with the fact that this book had so much religion in it because they say right in the prologue, "Whitney shared how she was beginning to see how God could use this story for the greater good." If they didn't want to read about God's love, scriptures, and how these two families allowed God to help them through this difficult time, they should have stopped reading the book at the end of the prologue. Even that back of the book tells of both ...more
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction, audio
I bought this book for a dollar. I am vaguely familiar with this story in the news, and the book coming out - shelved as it was in Christian inspiration or some such section, I never did more than find it for people interested in reading it.

I was looking for something quick (prior to this, I had been listening to the entire George RR Martin Song of Ice and Fire books - approximately 160 hours of epic fantasy) and based in reality. I figured I could stand this - and the ramifications of the
Kirsten Nault
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
April 26, 2006, a day with only one survivor and two families. On April 26,2006, a crash occurred with a semi and a Taylor University College bus full of nine people. Not knowing that on the way home eight different families would have to bury their loved ones. Not knowing that on the way home they would have to identify who everyone was.
Laura and Whitney were two of the nine people that were on the Taylor University College bus that day. Both blondes and both very loved people. This crash hit
Oct 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had guessed this would be very preachy, and as a completely non religious person I knew this would bamboozle me. Yes, non religion, not anti religion; I have never had religion in my life, it's not something that's ever shaped me as a person. I could however, read this and understand that from both POVs of each family, they needed that idea and it pushed them through something that would have probably destroyed anyone else. I can't understand it, but I can respect it, so there's that.

The four
Martha Locker
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is about a van with students and staff from Taylor University that are in a serious car accident that resulted in five deaths. Two of the students are close to the same size, have blond hair, and look similar. One of these girls was thrown 50 feet out of the van and was identified due to the purse that was close to her, which actually belonged to the other girl. Whitney Cerak's family was notified of her death. The family of the other girl Laura Van Ryn was notified that she was in the ...more
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