Long-Distance Love: Discover Great Books on Pen Pal Bffs

February isn’t just for romance. Let’s celebrate International Friendship Month with style and discover some wonderful novels about long distance besties!

Just For Fun Lifestyle Non-Fiction Pop Culture Recommendations Travel Young Adult

Pen pal novels, a genre as timeless as letter writing itself, encapsulate the beauty and depth of long-distance friendships through the written word. These literary treasures explore the intricacies of human connection across miles and cultures, weaving tales of companionship, empathy, and understanding that transcend geographical boundaries.

From the romantic allure of unexpected correspondence to the poignant portrayal of shared joys and sorrows, pen pal novels offer a window into the profound bonds forged through letters, highlighting the enduring power of friendship in an increasingly interconnected world. Come explore some wonderful long-distance friendships that were formed or maintained through letters.

I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda & Caitlin Alifirenka

I Will Always Write Back is a true story of pen pals Martin and Caitlin, who are still friends to this day.

It started as an assignment. Caitlin had never even heard of Zimbabwe when everyone in her class was told to write a letter to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. Excited for the first time about homework, she went home that night and wrote a detailed letter. She wrote about her favorite color, and what sports she played, and asked her mystery pen-pal about life in Zimbabwe.

A map of north america in yellow and africa in green underneath blue and red writing of the title. The margins of the cover are blue, white, and red stripes in the style of postage.

Martin had never heard of Pennsylvania when he read Caitlin’s letter. He was lucky to receive a pen-pal letter, his class only received ten letters for fifty kids! But as the top student, he got the first one. He wrote Caitlin back, talking about his siblings and soccer and saying he hoped she wrote again. These letters were the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives. In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends, and better people, through their inspiring long-distance exchange.

Letters from the Inside by John Marsden

Two girls whose lives couldn’t be more different are brought together as pen pals in this riveting and haunting novel. This is perfect for fans of Orange is the New Black and those interested in unpacking the reality of life behind bars.

A person locked behind bars with an upset face.

Mandy and Tracey have never met, but they know everything about each other. Connected through a pen-pal ad, they exchange frequent letters, writing about boyfriends, siblings, music, and friends. They trade stories about school and home. They confide their worries and hopes. It almost makes it easier that they have never met – they can say whatever they want in the safety of their private world of letters. But that private world may not be as safe as it seems. Can Mandy trust Tracey to be who she says she is? What secrets hide between the lines of their letters?

Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks

As a young girl in a working-class neighborhood of Sydney, Australia, Geraldine Brooks longed to discover the places where history happens and culture comes from, so she enlisted pen pals who offered her a window on adolescence in the Middle East, Europe, and America.

Front cover of Foreign Correspondence showing a photo of two kids and various colored stamps.

Twenty years later Brooks, an award-winning foreign correspondent, embarked on a human treasure hunt to find her pen friends. She found men and women whose lives had been shaped by war and hatred, by fame and notoriety, and by the ravages of mental illness. Intimate, moving, and often humorous, Foreign Correspondence speaks to the unquiet heart of every girl who has ever yearned to become a woman of the world.

Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty

The novel follows the correspondence between students from two rival schools. Cassie Aganovic, Emily Thompson, and Lydia Jackson-Oberman attend the prestigious, private Ashbury High; Matthew Dunlop, Charlie Taylor, and Sebastian Mantegna (“Seb”) attend the public and notoriously rough, Brookfield High. In a special pen-pal program between the schools, Cassie begins to write to Matthew; Emily writes to Charlie; and Lydia exchanges letters with Seb.

Young girl holding a hand of someone who can't be seen in frame sitting on a grassy background.

The letters are initially different degrees of hostility. Emily and Charlie poke fun at each other’s writing, while Lydia and Seb bicker about whether or not they can trust each other. Matthew however, is much worse. He continuously threatens Cassie, but she responds calmly and tells no one of the abusive letters. Over time, the letters change tones. Charlie and Emily go on “practice dates” to help Charlie date the girl of his dreams, Christina Kratovac. Lydia and Seb participate in “Secret Assignments” that eventually lead to their forming a close relationship.

Cassie and Matthew begin to go down a similar path and plan a meeting after Cassie finally starts getting civil responses from Matthew. However, his sudden kindness is a ploy. He stands her up and then, on a following meeting, proceeds to rip up a letter that she had sent and openly mock her. When Lydia and Emily find out what Matthew has done, they ask for help from Seb and Charlie to get Matthew back. But who can they confront when they find out Matthew doesn’t exist?

Love from Your Friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky

Hannah’s best friend, Aggie, moves away and doesn’t answer a single one of her letters. Determined to find a new pen pal, Hannah picks an address from a box on her teacher’s desk. It’s a boy, but his first letter is so dopey, that Hannah decides to not answer. Instead, she writes to President Roosevelt.

a young girl in a red dress with a white bow sitting on a diner seat writing a litter with the american flag and a photo of president Roosevelt in the background and a pile of books on the seat next to her.

Before long, Hannah has a whole lot of pen pals–and finally discovers the perfect friend, in the most unlikely place. In this absorbing epistolary novel, Mindy Warshaw Skolsky takes readers back to the late 1930s, and into the life of an irrepressible and unforgettable heroine. 

Searching for Anne Frank by Susan Goldman Rubin

Searching for Anne Frank provides an insightful look at the life of Anne Frank through the letters she wrote to her two penpals, sisters Juanita and Betty Wagner of Iowa, prior to her hiding away from and being caught by the Nazis during World War II.

A photo of Anne Frank next to a map of the Netherlands. Underneath is a picture of Juanita and a letter from one of the girls to the other.

In 1939, a schoolgirl in Iowa picked a name from a list of children in Holland to be her pen pal; she chose Anne Frank. A cache of correspondence from the girl whose diary is one of the most famous books of all time would be big news indeed; in fact, Anne sent only one letter. Dated April 29, 1940, the letter gives some facts about Anne’s school and her postcard collection. Juanita and her older sister, Betty (the pen pal of Margot), wondered what had happened to the Franks in the war. After the production of a 1955 show called The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway, the sisters realized who their pen pals were.

Amazingly, when Juanita wrote to Anne after the war, the letter reached Otto Frank, who responded with a long handwritten letter about Anne’s capture and death.

Pen pal friendships are some of the most unique and interesting ones to explore in a literary way. For more books with crazy and wonderful friendships, click here.

Check out more books about friendship on our Bookshop here.