I first heard of I Will Always Write Back on one of my favourite cooking blogs: Dinner, a Love Story. I read it at the end of January, most probably attracting attention on the metro as I gasped, smiled and despaired in the general direction of my Kindle. Here’s what I thought!
Caitlin is a twelve-year-old American girl who hears of a pen pal project at school. Although the other kids choose to send letters to countries like France or Germany, she picks Zimbabwe. Her letter reaches Martin, a 14-year-old boy who is at the top of his class. Both children continue to swap letters for years, learning more and more about each other’s lives in the process.
I enjoyed this true story of two children who grow up to be as close as siblings. I Will Always Write Back was, in a lot of respects, what I expected it to be. It reminds the reader how privileged they are for simply owning several pairs of shoes when children like Martin in Zimbabwe don’t even own one pair.
While reading this book, I found myself feeling angry at myself and people around me for complaining about first-world problems (that can still be legitimate) that were nothing compared with families who can’t afford to send their children to school, who pay for everything with coins and who don’t even own bank accounts.
In other ways, however, I was surprised by this book. At the beginning of the story the two characters are children so the style is understandably basic. However, the tone stayed very youthful right to the end where Martin and Caitlin are in their twenties. It got tiring after a while and I would have appreciated a little less detail about certain obstacles encountered in their relationship.
This remains an inspiring story about generosity, trust and selflessness. It is also a lesson in relativism: I Will Always Write Back taught me that 20 US dollars can pay for a full year of private school for a child in Zimbabwe. I recommend this book especially for young adults but also for anyone who needs a little reminder of how lucky they are!