04 January 2023

Review: I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka

I Will Always Write Back - How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda and Liz Welch book cover

I still remember the joy of having pen pals as a teenager, and the premise of I Will Always Write Back - How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda and Liz Welch appealed immediately.

In 1997, Caitlin Alifirenka was in her seventh-grade English class when she was asked to choose a place from a list of countries for a pen pal program the school was embarking on. Whilst other class mates chose countries like Germany and France, Caitlin wanted something different. Living in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, 12 year old Caitlin decided to choose the last country on the list, Zimbabwe. Although she had travelled outside the USA, Caitlin didn't know much about Africa and took great care when deciding how to begin her letter.

A few months later, Martin Ganda was a top student in a very poor part of Zimbabwe when his teacher entered the room, excitedly announcing the class had received pen pal letters from America. There were 10 letters and 50 students and it was immediately apparent many students would miss out. Luckily for Martin, his high scores in a recent test meant he was in Group One, and each high achieving student in the group received a pen pal letter.

In I Will Always Write Back, we learn about Caitlin and Martin in alternate first person POV as well as through the letters they exchange and I enjoyed seeing their friendship blossom. While other pen pal friendships soon petered out after a few letters, Caitlin and Martin remained pen pals for years, despite the oftentimes prohibitive cost of postage for Martin.

Their relationship begins to change both of their lives for the better and I enjoyed following each of their accounts through the years. I did have to take a break for a few weeks as I found myself struggling with the humungous economic and demographic gap between them and growing nervous about what would happen to Martin.

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka is a real feel good book that will hopefully inspire you to be more generous with your time - and money - and be aware of your own unique privilege.

Caitlin's family deserve a standing ovation for their support of Martin and his family, and I found myself in deep admiration for Caitlin's Mum's ceaseless efforts to seek a scholarship for Martin. Talk about above and beyond, wow!

If you need a story to inspire you or lift your spirits - don't they call that Up Lit now? - then this is for you. Special thanks to my friend closer to home, Diana, for lending me this book. She and I enjoy exchanging snail mail and she knew I'd love this as much as she did.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. Glad you enjoyed this as much as I did. I liked how the family all remained in contact with Martin too.

    1. Thanks Diana! I've noticed a few other readers adding this to their TBR after seeing my review, so you're helping to spread the word about this beautiful story. Oh and the author Caitlin enjoyed the review, so thanks again for lending me your copy.


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