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Today's RED Hearts Update: Entertainment

A Friendship That Speaks Worlds

By Zulay Regalado, 26, reporting from Miami on an inspiring new book about the power of the pen (pal)

I Will Always Write Back is a beautiful, sometimes tragic, moving and inspiring new book, the true story of a friendship across continents that turned into something greater than expected.

In 1997, when Caitlin Alifrenka chose Zimbabwe for her school’s pen pal program, she couldn’t even locate the country on a map. Of course, a typical 12-year-old girl living in suburban Pennsylvania has things on her mind other than southern Africa—such as choosing the right outfit for school and decoding her complicated friendships.

A bright 14-year-old boy named Martin Ganda received Catilin’s letters in a completely different world from hers. Martin was living in one of Zimbabwe’s most impoverished slums and aspiring to one day obtain a scholarship to college—something his mother too truly pointed out as his “only hope” to getting ahead in life. His limited circumstances of course made it difficult for him to relate to Caitlin’s middle-class American girl lifestyle, all roller skating and teenage angst. Despite this difference though, Martin was excited to get to know the girl who became equally intrigued by his faraway culture. Zimbabwe’s crippling economic state and Martin’s lack of resources often threatened his chances of continuing his correspondence with Caitlin.

However, Martin vowed to never let these obstacles get in the way of exchanging letters with the person who was slowly and unknowingly changing his life.

Caitlin and Martin’s bond was at times difficult for those around them to understand—myself included, as a reader. But in a way that’s the power of their connection; it kind of excludes others, and we all know how rare it is when you find that with another person.

I’m not going to tell you how it ends—or where. They could be anywhere. That’s ultimately the powerful message woven into the pages of this intricately-narrated story: Despite the fact we all live in different worlds, there’s so much to be gained if you just allow yourself the chance to learn about someone else’s, and invite them into yours.

I Will Always Write Back is now available for purchase in stores and on Amazon.

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