Saturday, September 12, 2015

I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifirenka

When Caitlin's teacher said they would be writing pen pal letters that year Caitlin found herself drawn to Zimbabwe for some reason.  Her letter ended up in the hands of Martin who was one of only ten people in his class to receive one of the letters.  Martin was first in his class so he got the first of the letters. Thus began a correspondence that lasted for years and changed both of their lives.  At first Caitlin had no idea how different her life was from Martin's.  She sent a picture of herself and asked for one in return without realizing that pictures were too costly and hard to come by for someone living in one of the poorest sections of Zimbabwe.  Caitlin sent a dollar, asking for a Zimbabwe dollar to compare but Martin didn't have one to spare.  Her dollar, however, helped take care of his family for a long time.  Once Martin began to reveal more about his life Caitlin realized how different their lives were and felt compelled to help Martin who she now considered her best friend.  Once her parents got involved the entire family made it their mission to help Martin reach his dream of coming to the United States for college.

This book is not the type of thing I usually pick up but something about the description appealed to me and I was totally engrossed very quickly.  The message of Caitlin and Martin's friendship is great in how their commitment to each other makes each of their lives better.  I just wish that the execution of the story had been better so that it would reach more teens.  The book is too long for a read aloud and will put off many teen readers.  The writing is also more of a laundry list of what happened, especially later in the book.  The stories of the photos and dollars early on are engaging but later I felt that it was more of a "first I did this, then this happened, then this" recounting of events.  Also, I know that this is the story of both Caitlin and Martin but Caitlin's chapters seemed irrelevant and strangely disconnected from the central story during her teen years.  Why do I need to know that her new boyfriend was allowed to smoke pot in his room?  I'm struggling because I really like the message of this book and humanity exhibited on both sides which makes me still like it quite a bit, but I don't care for how it was done overall.  Also, as a side note, the cover will make it that much more difficult for me to entice any teens to read it.