“We had no idea what kind of person we were getting”

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Today I saw the (R-rated) documentary The Imposter, which was disturbing, amazing, and entertaining in equal, ample measure. What it wasn’t, though — at least not for me — was surprising, since I knew so much of what to expect through my research into other stories of false identities for Can I See Your I.D.?

The Imposter lets out — bit by excruciating bit — the true story of a San Antonio family who, three years after the disappearance of their 13-year-old son and brother, was notified that he had turned up in Spain. The young man that they brought home to live with them was different from their lost loved one in crucial, obvious ways that couldn’t have been explained by whatever trauma he had been through in the intervening years, yet they allowed themselves to believe that the person lost and the person found were one and the same.

As the title gives away, they weren’t the same, but anyone who has read the “key lessons” I offer near the end of Can I See Your I.D.? should be able to pick up on the tricks and techniques employed by the imposter to convince the family otherwise.

He kept his mouth shut, saying little that would conflict with what known about the boy whose identity he had appropriated.

He did his best to look the part, and to explain away the ways in which he didn’t.

But rather than “let [his] would-be discoverers feel smart,” the imposter seized upon an impulse more primal than the craving for an ego boost: the desire for even a shred of hope to hang onto, the belief against all logic that someone given up for gone might still be alive. A better way to state that lesson in my book might have been “let your would-be discoverers feel what they most need to feel.”

The imposter’s behavior was reprehensible. His story, however, is grippingly and cleverly told and would make a terrific companion to Can I See Your I.D.? for upper YA readers.

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