YA Book Reviews

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Pen pals Caitlin and Martin grow up thousands of miles apart, but their friendship blossoms over a six year period in which they exchange letters. Caitlin, an upper middle class student from Pennsylvania, slowly learns that Martin, a bright student from Africa, lives a life completely different from her own. For example, Martin's family, having received a $1 American bill from Caitlin through the mail, is able to eat for two weeks in the slums of Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Caitlin shops at the mall every weekend and receives a new car for her 16th birthday. As her eyes are gradually opened to the economic crisis impacting her beloved pen pal, Caitlin feels compelled to assist Martin and his family, sending them her babysitting money, new clothing, and special treats with her letters.

However, as the economic situation worsens in Zimbabwe, Martin is no longer able to pay his fees to continue his secondary education (equivalent to $20 in the US). With her family's assistance, Caitlin is able to help Martin continue pursuing his academic dreams and prepare for his college entrance exams. After serious efforts from Caitlin's mother, they are able to secure him a full ride to college in the United States! Throughout the process, both friends are shaped by their unique friendship and these acts of generosity. Caitlin herself begins taking a more serious approach to her education and begins college courses in nursing while still in high school.

This eye-opening book will often remind readers how very privileged we are in the United States. It also serves as a reminder that giving and sacrificing for others can be transformative. I especially admire Martin for his upbeat attitude throughout the obstacles he faced as a young adult in poverty---- and Caitlin for her empathy...when so many of us would have distanced ourselves from the situation.