I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

Courtesy of FCPS TLC

“I’d never heard of Zimbabwe. But something about the way the name looked up on the blackboard intrigued me. It was exotic, and difficult to pronounce. It was also the last country in a long list that Mrs. Miller had written in chalk. She asked each student in my seventh-grade English class to pick one place for a pen pal program our school was starting that year.

Alfirenka, Caitlin and Ganda, Martin; with Welch, Liz. I will always write back: How one letter changed two lives.  Little, Brown and Company, 2015. 387 pages. Hardcover. $18.00, ISBN 978-0-316-24131-1

From School Library Journal courtesy of Amazon.com

Gr 6 Up—The true story of two young pen pals who forge a life-altering connection. In 1997, Caitlin, a typical 12-year-old girl from a middle class American family, began writing to Martin, a studious 14-year-old from a Zimbabwe slum. In her letters, Caitlin described her life, which consisted of shopping trips, quarrels with friends, and problems at school. Martin was initially far more circumspect in his responses. Inflation had rocketed in Zimbabwe, and even finding money for postage was a struggle for the boy. Staying in school, which required paying costly fees, became merely a dream. Eventually, Martin revealed the harsh realities of his life to Caitlin, who began sending money and gifts. What started as chatty letters turned into a lifeline for Martin and his family, as Caitlin and her parents helped the boy stay in school and achieve his goal of studying at an American university. This is a well-written, accessible story that will open Western adolescents’ eyes to life in developing countries. Told in the first person, with chapters alternating between Caitlin’s and Martin’s points of view, this title effectively conveys both of these young people’s perspectives. Caitlin’s early chapters, however, in which she discusses friendship and boyfriend woes, feel somewhat superficial compared with Martin’s genuinely troubled life. While these chapters provide an effective contrast between the two teens’ lives, they may discourage some readers from continuing with what becomes a strong and inspiring story. VERDICT A useful addition to most collections and an eye-opening look at life in another culture.—Michelle Anderson, Tauranga City Libraries, New Zealand

Want to hear Caitlin and Martin discuss their book? Bloomberg has a great interview.

Bloomberg Interview

Bloomberg Interview

  • 2015 Parents’ Choice Book Awards: Nonfiction, Silver
  • 2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 6–8
  • 2015 Cybils Awards Nomination, Young Adult Nonfiction


Courtesy of Amazon.com

Liz Welch (image courtesy of Amazon.com)

Courtesy of Amazon.com

Caitlin Alifirenka (image courtesy of Amazon.com)

Courtesy of Amazon.com

Martin Ganda (image courtesy of Amazon.com)









Caitlin’s Twitter

Martin’s Twitter


Liz’s Twitter





One Death. Nine Stories. edited by Marc Aronson & Charles R. Smith Jr.

HRS One Death Nine StoriesThis interesting book includes nine different stories by nine different authors that all are somehow related to the suicide of one person, Kevin Nicholas. I included the School Library Journal review because I think they did a really great job of summarizing the book for you. Enjoy!

Aronson, Marc & Charles R. Smith Jr. One Death. Nine Stories. Candlewick Press, 2014. 148 pages. Hardcover. $16.99, ISBN 978-0-7636-5285-2

From School Library Journal

“Gr 9 Up—Kevin Nicholas, a popular high school football player, has committed suicide, though readers don’t know that at first. In fact, through nine stories, each told by a different author and from a different point of view, readers come to know only a little about Kevin himself. Instead, readers observe the reactions of Kevin’s sister, his best friends, people who barely knew him, even of the funeral home workers who handles his body. The death of a teenager, especially by his own hand, can be impossible to understand, but lives don’t stop just because one life did. Each chapter deals with the process of initiation, acceptance, growing up, and moving on even in the face of death. The authors included are all well-known young adult writers, such as Ellen Hopkins, Rita Williams-Garcia, and A. S. King, and it is clear that they know and understand their audience. Despite the differing perspectives and characters, the writing is remarkably consistent in tone. The vignette feel of each section may appeal to reluctant readers who can manage a narrative in small chunks without losing the arc of the story itself. More enthusiastic readers will devour it whole. Keep it in mind as bibliotherapy, should the unfortunate need arise, or as a springboard for journaling or creative writing.—Katherine Koenig, The Ellis School, PA”

Available in:


Kindle Edition



© Chris Peeler 2013