Book Review: I Will Always Write Back (YA)

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda

Goodreads Summary:
The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of–so she chose it. 

Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends –and better people–through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it.

My Review:
I loved this book! Even though it’s YA, I think this heart-warming story will appeal to audiences of all ages: middle grade through adult. The writing is great: easy to read.

At the beginning of 7th grade, Caitlin receives a pen pal from Zimbabwe. She has no idea how much those letters will change her life. Writing to Martin opens her eyes to the problems of the world. The small gifts Caitlin starts sending to Martin literally save his family. They are living in dire poverty in Africa. His father cannot even afford to send him to school at times. The conditions in Martin’s city were almost unbelievable. I knew things could be bad in some parts of the world, but it was a little hard to fathom at times, especially when the bigger cities in Zimbabwe have wealth, the same as we have in America.

This book is written in alternating chapters in Caitlin’s and Martin’s voices. Even though it’s told from the present, they’ve written the chapters with their emotions and feelings from that time. It’s technically a memoir, but it’s written as a cohesive story. Snippets of their letters are included, but it’s definitely more narrative than epistolary. Additional details of their lives are filled in beyond their letters too, which helps to flesh out the story.

I was blown away by this story. Caitlin and her family (her mother especially) were such wonderful people. Martin was so determined and hard working. I really enjoyed reading about how the relationship between Caitlin and Martin developed over time. And it was interesting how Caitlin was impacted by their exchanges as well as Martin. I could not put this book down. I flew through it in two days, staying up 2 hours past my bedtime on the second night to finish it.

I read this book for my family book club, with my niece and sister-in-law and some of their friends. I can’t wait to discuss it and hear what other people think.

My Rating: 5 Stars
Understand my ratings.

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  1. Whoa, this is so cool! I love that it's actually written by both of the people in the story. It lends it a nice authenticity. It's weird that it's tagged YA though, since 7th grade is definitely in the MG range.

    CJ @ Sarcasm&Lemons

    1. Yes, the back and forth of both characters definitely added to the story. It starts in 7th grade, but it follows them through college. A middle grader could read it though without a problem.

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