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On Our Bookshelves – I Will Always Write Back




BOOK: I Will Always Write Back

AUTHORS: Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch


On the recommendation of a middle school librarian, I bought this book for my 11-year-old daughter, and gave it to her for Christmas. I ended up reading it first, and thought it was a terrific book, especially for young people. Then she read it over the winter break, and agreed with me.


It’s the true story of pen pals, a long distance friendship that developed between them, and how this correspondence changed two lives over the course of six years. Caitlin was a seventh grader in 1997, and in many ways a typical American suburban kid: she lived a small town, and her world was small. She was focused on adolescent concerns: boys she had crushes on, mean girls at school, shopping trips. She was sheltered and naïve…but she had an incredibly big heart. Martin was a brilliant student (first in his class) from a poor family in Zimbabwe. Like Caitlin, he was a very kind person and a good friend. His life was hard, and started becoming significantly harder when his father lost his job, and when hyperinflation took hold of his country. When he was no longer able to pay his school fees, Caitlin sent him her babysitting money, which became a lifeline, not just for Martin, but for his entire family. To put things in perspective, a $1 bill she put in the mail covered the cost of his family’s groceries for two weeks.

Caitlin eventually enlisted her family to assist, and due largely to the efforts of her mother (who had a heart as big as her daughter’s) they saved his family from penury and secured Martin a full scholarship to college in the United States. (Kudos here to the late Father Edmund Dobbin, who was the president of Villanova University at the time, and who responded to their personal and heartfelt appeal, directing his admissions office to find the money for this extraordinary young man.)

Martin changed Caitin’s life as well–not quite as dramatically, perhaps, but his friendship opened her eyes to the developing world, to extreme poverty, to injustice, and to her own privileges. Inspired largely by him, she pursued a career in medicine, and is now an emergency room nurse, putting her generosity and sympathy to very good use.

They’re best friends to this day.


RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best: 3 1/2 Whistles




Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.


Lead-In Image Courtesy of Apple_Mac / Shutterstock.com



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