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

I Will Always Write Back9780316241311_p0_v5_s192x300I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives

Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch, Authors

Little Brown and Company, Memoir, Apr. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Pen Pals, Teenagers, U.S. and Zimbabwe, Friendship, Poverty, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis: It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. 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.

Why I like this book:

  • This is an inspirational  story about a true friendship that begins between two 12-year-old students in 1997 — Caitlin lives in Pennsylvania and Martin lives in the slums of Zimbabwe. They make a pen pal pact that they “will always write back.” Their story is about similarities and contrasts. Their friendship transforms both of their lives and makes them better people.
  • The dual memoir is told in first person with alternating chapters that keep readers turning pages. It also adds more depth to the story because readers have immediate access to their intimate thoughts and feelings as they exchange letters and build trust with one another. Caitlin’s early letters detail arguments with friends, boyfriends, shopping, and family. Martin quickly realizes that Caitlin’s life is one of privilege, so it takes a crisis before Martin finally opens up and reveals his difficult life.
  • Martin is a serious and determined teen who is wants to be the first in his family to get and education. He is at the top of his class and scores very high on national exams. He is a whiz at math and wants to go to college and major in mathematics and finances. He works hard at his studies, but also has a side job to help his family. His story is the most compelling because of all the obstacles he has to overcome to pursue his dreams.
  • I enjoyed watching Caitlin’s growth and change when she realizes the full impact of Martin’s poverty-stricken life. She begins to look at her own life and what matters. She stops hanging with the friends who tease her about her pen pal. She begins to focus on finding ways to help Martin realize his dreams. She turns to her family for help.
  • Caitlin’s parents are amazing. They play a significant role in finding ways to send money to Martin’s family after his father loses his job. They pay for Martin and his sibling’s schooling, help his parents with rent and food, and send care packages. Helping Martin pursue higher education in Zimbabwe and attend a university in America, becomes a family project. Caitlin’s mother is a gem! She works tirelessly with American universities to find a full scholarship for Martin. She and Caitlin work with embassies in both countries. This is a family to admire.
  • I Will Always Write Back is a powerful story about how one person (and family) can make a difference. It is a story about connecting the dots with others less fortunate and realizing that we all have the power to help others less fortunate, whether it is locally or globally. Both Caitlin and Martin opened each other’s eyes to a bigger and better world. Their memoir is an eye-opener and an excellent choice for students in the classroom. Teachers can use their story to discuss the contrast in cultures and encourage students to get involved in service.

Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda are still best friends today. Caitlin, an ER nurse, is married and has young daughters. Martin earned dual degrees in mathematics and economics for Villanova University and an MBA in finance from Duke University.  Over time he saved and purchased a new home for his parents with indoor plumbing, a toilet and their own beds.  His sister is planning to attend college in America.

Liz Welch is an award-winning journalist and memoirist whose critically acclaimed first book, The Kids Are All Right, won an ALA Alex Award. She worked with Caitlin and Martin to bring their story to life.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

32 thoughts on “I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives

  1. What a wonderful story! I had a pen pal in Australia when I was young and we wrote for over 10 years. Unfortunately we lost touch. I often wonder how she is doing. I love that this is based on a true story and the fact that Caitlin´s family helped Martin´s family. Sounds like a win win to me!


    • I never had a pen pal and would have loved having one from another country. You were so fortunate. Because kids have easier access to children from other countries through church groups or schools, I hope more kids have the opportunity to have a pen pal. It fosters so much understanding and compassion. Caitlin grew as much as Martin did.


    • Pen pals must have been something that began in the 70s-80s. My daughter had a pen pal from Gahana. But, it was not done when I was in school in the 50s-60s. This story is exceptional! I think adults should read this book too.


    • Yes, Caitlin and Martin’s story is powerful. I believe adults would also enjoy it. It’s a story that makes you think. We’ve always sponsored children through various programs and hoped we’re helping. But, the support Caitlin’s family gave was remarkable.


  2. This looks sooooo special. I love the idea behind this. And I know how hard some of those African students work and study and bear the responsibility that winning an education brings, to support the whole family. Brilliant choice, Patricia.


    • It is a special read! You’ve had some experience in African countries and understand the dynamics. What always strikes me is how determined kids in third world countries are to help and support their families once they’ve become successful.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. WOW! amazing! This is so close to my heart. Makes me miss my ESL days when I watched the kids from varied corners of the earth and from diverse backgrounds and experiences bond and build bridges. Sigh. Thank you for sharing this.


    • I’m so glad this true story touched your heart. I’m not sure what ESL stands for, but it sounds like a diverse program that helped kids come together. Hope you read this novel as adults will enjoy it too.


  4. I will definitely look for this book. Pen Pals were always a part of our writing exercises in my 3rd and 4th grade classrooms. The kids LOVED it! Sadly, nothing this dramatic ever happened, but it was lots of fun learning about other kids’ families, schools, and lives.


    • I’m glad to know that many teachers have pen pals. I’m so glad you encouraged it. I never had that opportunity in school. It is a wonderful way for kids to learn about the lives of other kids.

      With International Dot Day each year and teachers connecting their classrooms with kids from other countries, I would think that would be a great way to encourage pen pals.


  5. This sounds like a fantastic book! I had pen pals when I was growing up (I still correspond with one of them, nearly 50 years later! We usually email these days, though.) My pen palling wasn’t through school, it was something I did on my own. It was an excellent way to learn about other kids, although I never had such a dramatic experience as Caitlin and Martin did. I *MUST* read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’d enjoy this book a lot. You were lucky to have a pen pal — I thought it may have been generational because I never had that opportunity through school or church. That’s so nice you still correspond after 50 years.


  6. What a wonderful story. I have a pen pal in Holland we’ve been writing to each other for many years and always send each other Birthday and Christmas presents. We’ve never met but one day we just might. I’m going to get this book, read it and then send it on to her.


  7. This brings me back to my childhood pen pal from Germany. Our letter exchange started when I was in Jr. High school and now, decades later, (and I won’t say how many…) we still write at Christmas. We told each other what school was like, what friends we had and why were friends with them, we wrote about the many holidays we had in common and not in common, we sent each other drawings and photographs, stickers and bracelets. During our high school years, I traveled to Germany to attend school with her for a short while, and the following year, she traveled to America to attend school with me for a year. I am adding this wonderful book on my shopping list. Thank you so much for sharing such a powerful gem.


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