Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Non-Fiction
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives

Fall 2015 Non-Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
ISBN: 978-0316241311
Hardcover Price: $18.00

Caitlin has never heard of Zimbabwe before her seventh grade teacher mentions it as a place where she might choose to write to a pen pal. But once Martin receives her first letter from his teacher in Mutare, both children slowly begin to learn about worlds they've never before imagined. Although Caitlin is consumed by middle school gossip, boy crushes, and girlfriend spats, she continues to wonder about Martin's life and to appreciate his steady, calm friendship. For Martin, desperately trying to stay in school in the midst of Zimbabwe's financial crisis, Caitlin's letters feel like a lifeline, giving him a window into a hopeful future for himself and his family. Slowly, Caitlin begins to realize that Martin struggles more than he lets on. Her letters become a lifeline indeed, as she slips babysitting money into envelopes that help to pay for school fees and rent. Martin's perseverance, in turn, helps to ground Caitlin as she navigates the social world of American high school. Over the years, the two friends' families join forces in a passionate mission to secure Martin a university education in the United States.

Martin and Caitlin, now adults and still close, tell the story of their friendship in alternating chapters, recalling their childhood selves with distinctive and appealing narrative voices. Their story is compelling, suspenseful, and satisfying. While the book celebrates the generosity of Caitlin's family, the alternating chapters also encourage the reader to think about the enormous structural inequalities that Martin faces, and to reflect upon the limitations of private philanthropy, as Caitlin's parents spend hours each week navigating bureaucratic hurdles just to provide one single family with more opportunity. Unfortunately, both Caitlin and Martin focus intensely on celebrating Martin's success and their friendship, and give much less attention to Martin's classmates who do not happen to be assigned to a steadfast pen pal. Readers, however, are likely to join in the celebration of Martin's achievements, and to justifiably admire the persistence and caring of both young writers.

Naomi Lesley   ©2015 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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