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

Book review by
Amanda May Dundas, Common Sense Media
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Moving, eye-opening memoir of cross-cultural friendship.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 24 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This memoir briefly discusses the history of colonization and independence and the dire economic realities in Zimbabwe.

Positive Messages

Martin and Caitlin's story teaches readers about the power of human connection and how just a little kindness and generosity can go a long way in changing someone's life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Martin, Caitlin, and Caitlin's mother all emerge as heroes in this book. Martin is relentless as he pursues his dream of an American education, and Caitlin works hard to help Martin and his family financially. When Caitlin's quest to help Martin come to the United States grows too difficult for the two of them to tackle on their own, her mother jumps in, helping Martin navigate a global bureaucracy and the college admissions process.


The Zimbabweans are obsessed with American brands such as Nike and Reebok; wearing branded clothes is a sign of wealth.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Caitlin attends one party as an underage drinker.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Will Always Write Back is the true story of unlikely pen pals that begins in 1997, when 12-year-old American Caitlin and 14-year-old Zimbabwean Martin are randomly paired by their schools. It's told in the first person, with chapters alternating between Caitlin's and Martin's points of view, as the two forge a life-altering friendship despite significant cultural, economic, and geographical differences. The disparity between their lives is stark; Caitlin is a typical middle-class American teen engaged in petty dramas involving friends and boys, while Martin goes hungry daily and struggles to find the funds to stay in school. When Caitlin sends him a dollar so he can see American currency, he can buy enough groceries to feed his family for two weeks. Martin is hesitant to disclose just how poor his family is but eventually opens up to Caitlin as his situation grows more desperate. Caitlin, with help from her tireless mother, ultimately changes Martin's life, as well as the lives of his family members. Martin, in return, opens Caitlin's eyes to the world outside her small rural town.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byLK Evans October 11, 2016

I have an issue with the who their audience is...

I teach middle school literature and there are two pages of this book that made me decide I wouldn't assign this as an in-class novel. This was a GREAT boo... Continue reading
Adult Written bykbheilig May 20, 2016


I think this is a book every child in the United States should read. I loved it! There's so much kindness and gratitude in it as well as a great realizat... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old October 26, 2016

Had me hooked from start to finish!!!

I borrowed this book from a friend who recommended it to me, and it's seriously one of the best books I've read in the past year. It's a pretty q... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byPerson111111 August 19, 2018


Positive role models and a heart warming, view changing story. I loved this book so much. The reason I'm going to say 10 and up is because drugs and drinki... Continue reading

What's the story?

I WILL ALWAYS WRITE BACK is the true story of two pen pals: Caitlin, a typical American teenager, and Martin, a poor but incredibly bright and hard-working boy in the African country of Zimbabwe who's struggling to get enough money to stay in school. Caitlin has no concept of Martin's poverty and sends him photographs and small gifts. She asks for similar items in return, not knowing that Martin's family barely has enough money to eat or pay his school fees, much less buy stamps or even have a photograph taken. Slowly, Martin reveals the depth of his poverty to his new American friend, who responds by sending him $20 she earned babysitting -- enough to keep him in school and prevent his family from being evicted. As Martin's financial situation grows dire, Caitlin and her family increase their support, eventually changing both Martin's and Caitlin's lives forever.

Is it any good?

Caitlin and Martin’s correspondence is an eye-opening look into the real-life implications of global poverty. It’s hard not to be moved by Martin's plight, and even more difficult not to suddenly feel incredibly fortunate as you read about the overwhelming obstacles he and other Zimbabweans face. Like Caitlin, most readers will be shocked by the particulars of Martin’s poverty, which includes having to drop out of school because his family is too poor to afford the fees and the power that only a few American dollars have in sustaining a family. Their story is a testament to the power of friendship, charity, and  ingenuity and may inspire many more acts of kindness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Martin and Caitlin's unusual friendship. Have you ever met anyone who changed your life?

  • Are you more like Martin or Caitlin, and in what ways?

  • Does Martin and Caitlin's story inspire you to take action to make the world a better place? What are some ways you could do that?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love friendship and coming-of-age stories

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