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!