5th Grade and Up
The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.
It started as a 7th-grade assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of – so she chose it.
Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only 10 letters and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.
That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned 6 years and changed two lives. In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends – and better people – through their long-distance exchange.
Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large.
This story takes place between the years 1997 to 2003. They first started sending letters when Caitlin was twelve and Martin was fourteen. This story shows what true friendship and genuine kindness are. The friendship between Caitlin and Martin is truly amazing. Every generous gesture from Caitlin and every kind word from Martin fills my heart with happiness.
Caitlin is your average American girl, a character I’ve read about many times. She’s obsessed with boys and pays too much attention to how she looks for a good part of the book. She still has a lot of growing up to do. Caitlin is naïve about Martin’s life situation for a good amount of the story. It’s not really her fault because Martin doesn’t tell her straight out. It is hinted at quite a bit, but she misses the hints.
If you want an example of how Martin lives, watch the movie ‘Queen of Katwe,’ and you’ll get a good idea. Martin’s family is desperately poor. They live in one of Zimbabwe’s worst slums and share one room with another family. A mattress is their only furniture. The way people live in Zimbabwe is horrifying and confusing. I could go on and on about how horrible life is like over there, but you’ll just have to read the book or watch ‘Queen of Katwe’ to see what I mean.
This next part gives away a lot of the story, but I have to say it. When Caitlin realizes what Martin’s life is like, she does everything she can do to help him. She even gets her whole family involved. Her family starts sending money and care packages and helps Martin find a scholarship in the United States. My favorite part of this entire story is Martin’s family’s reaction to all the things given to them. They don’t think of this as charity or pity help like many people in the books I have read. They see Caitlin as their angel and are incredibly grateful for everything she has done for them.
I honestly don’t know if I could have written to a pen pal in a faraway land in 7thgrade. I was going through some major anxiety at the time. Everything scared me, whether it was something mundane or highly stressful. Now that I’m older and calmer having a pen pal sounds pretty cool. If I had read this book back in middle school, it might have motivated me to have one (Example: the only reason my family went salmon fishing is that we saw it on Magic School Bus). I’d probably want a pen pal from either the Philippines or Australia. The Philippines is where my dad is from, and I’d like to know what kids’ lives are like over there. And Australia because it sounds like a cool place, and I’d want to ask them if they’ve ever seen a kangaroo or a koala up close.
This book proves that people can change people for the better and should be a mandatory middle school reading.