Title: The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree
Author: Paola Peretti, translated by Denise Muir
Publisher: Bonnier/Allen and Unwin
Published: 29th August 2018
Synopsis: A novel for all ages about a young girl losing her sight, inspired by the author’s own life story. For fans of Wonder, The Little Prince and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
A novel for all ages about a young girl losing her sight, inspired by the author’s own life story. For fans of Wonder, The Little Prince and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Mafalda is a nine-year-old girl who knows one thing: some time in the next six months her sight will fail completely. Can Mafalda find a way through a seemingly dark future and still go to school, play football and look after her beloved cat? With the help of her family, and her friends, Mafalda needs to discover the things that will be important to her when her sight has failed. A moving, empowering tale of courage and determination that will inspire young and old.
Mafalda is going blind – she knows, at nine years old, that she has six months left until her world changes forever – her house, what she can do now and what she will have to give up when she loses her sight, and the changes she will have to make. At home, she has her cat, Ottimo Turcaret, and her parents. At school, a counsellor called Estella, who is hiding a dark battle of her own, and her new friend, Filippo, who helps her navigate a world that is slowly descending into darkness. As she ventures towards her new reality, each part measuring the distance she can see until her whole world is taken by the darkness, Mafalda crosses off everything she can no longer do on her list and prepares to live a new life. However, Mafalda doesn’t really want things to change, and as her sight diminishes, the other changes in her world become more apparent as well.
Translated from Italian, and inspired by the life story of the author, who has Stargardt disease like Mafalda, the novel explores what it is like to live with a disability that is constantly getting worse, that has no cure, and impacts on everything Paola and Mafalda are able to do. It a story about friendship, family and hope, but also about how disability can affect the life of the disabled person and those around them, and how family and friends choose to act, the roles the must take on and what they do when the disability becomes more apparent or perhaps difficult for them to understand.
Through her experience of an encroaching disability, Mafalda finds friendship in an unlikely place with Filippo – someone she never thought would be her friend, but it is Filippo and Estella, the school counsellor, who help her through the encroaching darkness and whose loyalty proves she can still be who she is, just a little bit different to before. Having a friend like Filippo helps her through the changes she is going through.
The disabled experience is not often explored in books – and if it is, not always allowing the disabled character to be disabled -they must be healed or freed somehow. So what I liked about this book was the reality of Mafalda’s disability and how it will change her life, how illness can affect people and take them away. It is all seen through the eyes and feelings of a child, Mafalda, but is still very powerful. It allows people of all ages who are disabled to see themselves reflected in literature – to see how a disabled person navigates and must learn to adjust the way they navigate the world they live in are real experiences for disabled people that differ from person to person, and through Mafalda, some of these struggles can be seen.
A very powerful book about family, friendship and identity that will stay with you long after you finish.