Audiobooks Book Reviews Non-fiction Young Adult Books

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

I Will Always Write Back

I read I Will Always Write Back completely by accident.

It was recommended on the last round of Tell Me What to Read, and when I was looking up various titles, this one was available for immediate download from my library (this is the kind of highly-developed, super-scientific book selection method you can count on me for).

I didn’t know a single thing about the book, but after about three minutes of the audio, I was completely sucked in.

Some audiobooks take me FORRRRREVER to get through because I only listen to them a little here and there, and I’m not invested enough to choose them over new podcast episodes.

This was not one of those books.

I was looking for excuses to fold laundry, do dishes, or go for a run just so I could sneak in a few more minutes of listening.

This is a non-fiction book about two teenagers – Caitlin is 12 and lives with her middle-class family in Pennsylvania. Martin is 14 and lives in the Zimbabwe slums.

Their lives intersect when they are assigned as pen-pals for a school geography project.

For most of the students in the class, they write their assigned letters and then the relationship ends when the grades are passed out.

But not for Caitlin and Martin.

Over the course of six years, with scores of letters sent back and forth across the world, they develop a strong friendship that changes both of their lives.

Initially, Caitlin is your typical American teenager. She’s mostly concerned with her grades, what boy she currently has a crush on, and going to the mall with her friends.

It’s pretty hard for her to recognize how insanely fortunate she is compared to Martin.

Martin, for his part, is working like mad to succeed in school, but keeps being set back by his family’s desperate circumstances. They’re unable to pay for his school tuition and Zimbabwe is undergoing political changes that are making the economy go crazy.

He’s concerned that if he reveals too much about his family circumstances, Caitlin will never write him back.

Of course, their letter writing isn’t exactly easy to begin with, since the letters have to go half-way around the world and the postal system in Zimbabwe is questionable, to say the least.

Gradually, Caitlin starts to recognize how poor Martin’s family is – when she sends along a few dollars and they make a mountain of difference to his family, she’s shocked to realize that the money she takes for granted is the difference between starvation and a full stomach for an entire family. And not just for one meal, but for days and weeks.

As their correspondence continues, Caitlin convinces her parents to help her help Martin and his family, especially as Martin’s schooling continues and he starts to dream of attending an American University.

It’s so humbling to see how HARD Martin is willing to work to stay in school and help his family. And it’s hard to believe how far a $20 bill can go in a place like Zimbabwe.

This book made me tear up about fifty different times, and gave me a whole new appreciation for how fortunate Americans are and how much good just one person can do.

I also loved that I had no idea how this story was going to play out – up until the very end, I didn’t know how everything was going to resolve.

It’s a New York Times bestseller, so you may have already heard of it, but it hadn’t been on my radar at all. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t stop thinking about it, even weeks later.

The narration is done by two different readers, which I think adds a lot to this story, as the narrative switches between Pennsylvania and Zimbabwe.

This book is published as a young adult book, which never would have occurred to me if I hadn’t seen it categorized as such when I looked it up after the fact on Amazon.

If you’re looking for something eye-opening and inspiring, I Will Always Write Back is a fantastic book.

P.S. Right now, the audio version is on sale from Audible for $3.95 instead of the normal $27. You don’t have to have an Audible membership to buy it at that price – just download the free Audible app, buy the audiobook through Amazon and it will get delivered right to your Audible app and you can listen to it whenever you want – you own it forever!

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  • Reply Becky October 27, 2017 at 4:36 am

    I agree! It’s a fantastic book and such an eye opener.

  • Reply Kate @ Mom's Radius October 27, 2017 at 11:15 am

    I read this book last year because my niece’s teacher mentioned at a literary night we went to. We picked it for our family book club, and we all LOVED the book. It was very eye opening and so well written. I’m sure the audio is amazing. I’m tempted to buy it and read this one again.

  • Reply Diana October 27, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    I think I added this one to my TBR after seeing it in the comments of your post and I’m so excited to read it! When I get there…

  • Reply Jenae Jeppesen October 27, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    This sounds like a great book for my book club! Question, is there bad language or content? A few of my ladies are very sensitive. VERY.

    • Reply Alicia Langstraat December 15, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      I’m in the middle of it now, and there is talk about boobs, and junior high dating, and words like “screw them” and some taking off the Lord’s name in vain.

  • Reply Beth October 27, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    This was one of the Cybils nonfiction picks for last year, which is how I found it. I dragged my feet at opening it because it looked so preachy, and then it was amazing. I do not remember any bad language or content, but I’m not that sensitive. It’s marketed as a middle school book so if anyone is concerned I’d look at some teacher blogs, because they tend to highlight stuff like that.

    • Reply Jenae Jeppesen October 28, 2017 at 4:52 pm


      • Reply Janssen Bradshaw November 2, 2017 at 7:34 pm

        I know Beth already responded, but I agree that it’s very clean. I can’t remember anything objectionable!

  • Reply Laura October 28, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    I got this on inter library loan after seeing it on your blog, and it was sitting by my bed last night after I had seen this post. I hadn’t started it yet and thought, oh, I’ll just read a few pages beore going to sleep. 200 pages later… I finally made myself put it down and go to bed. Especially enjoyable if you came of age in the 90’s because of the cultural references.

  • Reply 75 Audiobooks to Listen to This Year - Everyday Reading February 3, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    […] I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda This book was so good about two young pen pals, one in the US and one in Zimbabwe. Full review here. […]

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