A pen-pal correspondence between an American girl and a Zimbabwean boy blossoms into a lifelong friendship.
In alternating chapters, the authors relate their story, which begins in 1997 when 12-year-old Caitlin chooses a boy in Zimbabwe for a pen-pal assignment. Caitlin’s privileged life in Pennsylvania differs tremendously from Martin’s hardscrabble life in millworkers’ housing, where his family shares one room with another one. The top student in his class, Martin dreams of studying at an American university, but even just continuing high school in Zimbabwe seems like a long shot. Caitlin, not recognizing the extent of Martin’s poverty, sends some of her babysitting money with her letters, and Martin’s family uses it for food. Eventually, Caitlin and her parents become Martin’s sponsors for his studies and help him obtain a scholarship to Villanova University in 2003. Written with journalist Welch, the heartfelt recollections read like an overlong magazine article. The early chapters in particular have the inauthentic feel of sentimentalized adult reminiscence, and they accentuate the difference between an American whose eyes are open to the value of international friendship and her less-enlightened classmates. The action builds toward the happy climax of Martin’s arrival in the United States, but at the same time, it conveys a sense of the power of do-gooder, take-charge Americans to effect change.
A feel-good, message-driven book that may appeal to adults more than teens. (photographs) (Memoir. 12 & up)