At first Caitlin believes that Martin is well off since he pays fees to go to school and is top of his class, and he doesn't want to scare her off with the full truth. Martin assumes that Caitlin wouldn't understand, but when she learns of his impoverishment, she secretly sends her babysitting money to him. Later she convinces her middle class parents to help support Martin's family so that he can stay in school. However, sending money securely to Zimbabwe is nearly impossible. Martin's quest to find a scholarship to an American college is a page-turner story with everyday details that make it real and relatable.
"The last Fanta I had was two Christmases ago - at the beginning of the economic troubled time. My father could only afford one that year, so we passed it around, taking small sips, holding the sunshine-sweet liquid in our mouths for as long as possible before giving in to a swallow."This engaging book teaches a lesson about the world from a personal perspective without sounding too preachy. Caitlin, despite her generosity, is not a saint. She's a typical American teenager who is more focused on shopping, popularity and boys than on her schoolwork. Most kids will relate to Caitlin and her everyday problems, which contrast sharply with Martin's day-by-day struggle to obtain basic necessities like food, water, shelter and medical treatment. His Herculean efforts to stay in school inspire Caitlin to take her education more seriously and to choose a career in nursing. She gets as much from him as he does from her. Their true story shows that it's possible to make a difference and that the differences between us aren't insurmountable.
I Will Always Write Back would make an excellent classroom supplement to an international pen pal assignment. The easy-to-read style is a good match for kids ages ten to fourteen. There are only a couple of chapters with drugs and underaged drinking, but a teacher could skip over them. Since the book follows the characters from seventh grade to college, it is being marketed as young adult. Older teens and adults would enjoy it too, but the naive perspective and simple writing style are better geared for younger readers, in my opinion. Read with a box of tissues.
Reviewer's Disclosure: the owner of Main Point Books in Pennsylvania recommended this book to me. I purchased it at Longfellow Books in Maine. As a teen, I spent a summer in Kenya studying wildlife conservation and learned how challenging life is for families in developing countries. The experience changed how viewed the world. Books like I Will Always Write Back are not only important; they are necessary. Family photo below is by my dad.