I Will Always Write Back
A true story, alternating in perspective between Caitlin Alifirenka, a seventh grade girl from Hatfield, Pennsylvania, and Martin Ganda, a boy from Zimbabwe with little money and big dreams. They became pen pals, and at first they were each fascinated by the differences they detected from small clues in letters and photographs: Is that jewelry on her teeth? He's eaten rabbit and I have one for a pet? Over time, Caitlin's stories about the mall and friendship dramas shift as Martin's commitment to his education, even in the midst of extreme poverty, inspires her to re-examine her priorities. When she begins to understand Martin's desperate circumstances and decides to take action, with the help of her family, Martin's whole future, and that of his family, are affected.
Although U.S. readers who follow the news may not find this book earth-shattering, it is a story worth reading, especially for people who don't often consider their own good fortune. Caitlin's growing awareness of her own privilege and her efforts to do something to help Martin and his family will resonate with readers who have never had to worry about having enough food. Martin's resilience and determination are inspiring; the lengths he goes to to attend school are enormous, in addition to studying hard enough to be first in his class year after year.
It may frustrate readers to see how Caitlin does not appreciate Martin's poverty at first, or know very much about his country, but she seeks more information and educates herself so that she does understand better, and she then acts to make a positive difference.
This book's writing style and overall message are a good fit for fourth or fifth grade, but some references to underage drinking, political unrest, and upsetting health concerns may make this a better fit for readers in 6th grade and up.
"Reading that letter brought tears to my eyes. He was so proud. He had never asked me for help." p. 140
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