The winner of the third annual Niles Teen Tournament of Books is I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka. From Teen Read Week in October 2017 to Teen Literature Day during National Library Week in April 2017, each teen judge read and reviewed two books and then picked their choice to go on to the next round of reading and reviewing. All titles were selected from three reading lists: The Abraham Lincoln Award List, Read for a Lifetime and the Teens Top Ten.
The following reviews capture the enthusiasm of the teen judges.
I Will Always Write Back was extremely moving and honestly I was sitting on the edge of my seat for majority of the book. This was an easy read and also a fast paced read, I was able to finish the entire book in one day. It really shows how lucky we are and how much we take for granted. I could read this book over and over again and still cry at the moving parts!
I Will Always Write Back is a powerful memoir detailing how a simple letter between two pen pals; Martin Ganda, a student in Zimbabwe; and Caitlin Alifrenka, a middle-schooler from Pennsylvania; sparked a greater bond than either of them could have anticipated. I chose I Will Always Write Back as the winner of this bracket. For one, it was a book that I literally could not put down. Since I knew that the book was based on true events, I quickly became invested in the lives of Caitlin and Martin and anticipated each new letter shown in the book. It was interesting to see how greatly their lives differed and to be made more aware of the struggles of countries like Zimbabwe with hyperinflation, a phenomenon rarely covered by Western media. This memoir made me more aware of my privilege of being able to live the United States and to simply have the life that I do. Having become more aware of this, I Will Always Write Back inspired me to give back and further serve my community. This book is one that everyone should read. An inspiring read, it offers a refreshing and important perspective on privilege and friendship.
This true story takes place in a suburban classroom of Pennsylvania in 1997. Caitlin Alifirenka does not know her next homework assignment will alter her life forever. She is a typical young, American teenager whose only worries are her appearance and what people think of her. Her teacher assigns the class a pen pal assignment to people who live all over the world. Caitlin is the only one who chooses Africa. She has never heard of Zimbabwe, but the name intrigues her. She corresponds with a intelligent, cheerful 14-year old boy whose name is Martin Ganda. Although Martin lives in the poorest of the slums in Africa, he is No. 1 in all his classes. His mother tells him that education is the only way to success and that pushes him to excel even further. While Caitlin lives in a happy middle-class life, Martin lives in a one room hut with no plumbing or electricity with his brothers, sister, parents, and one other family. Unlike the other children in Caitlin’s class, Martin and her keep in touch for years to come. He soon arrives in America studies at the top colleges in New York. Although he was very poor, he kept one promise to Caitlin: that he would always write back, no matter what.
The rarest of pen-pal friendships: one that actually stuck. Caitlin and Martin grow to become better people by reading the scrawl of the other. It shows how Caitlin grows from a privileged high school girl to a young adult that cares deeply for another human being and other cultures. Martin learns more about US culture and is able to go to a university and grow wiser as a student. The novel alternates perspective each chapter and I would suggest this book be recommended for readers in the middle school level as this is the age both main characters are when the book begins. It was one of the most entertaining nonfiction books I have read in a while. I would recommend this book because it really is an eye-opener and puts your own life into perspective.