The Distance Between Me And The Cherry Tree, the first children’s novel by Italian author Paola Peretti, is based upon her own experience of Stargardt Disease, a progressive illness which causes people to gradually lose their eyesight and eventually leads to complete blindness.
Mafalda, a 9-year-old girl who uses the ease with which she can see the cherry tree mentioned in the book’s title as an indication of how rapidly her eyesight is failing, narrates her own story. She compiles a list of things she wants to do while she still has vision, which includes driving a submarine, playing football with the boys and counting the stars in the sky, and hopes to have time to work her way through it. As time progresses, Mafalda starts to realise what will be truly important in her life when she ultimately loses the ability to see.
Mafalda is a character who immediately inspires empathy. She is naïve and vulnerable but, as her condition deteriorates, the determined and courageous side of her personality gradually comes to the fore. The storyline is gentle, almost serene, with no major twists or turns. Much is made of the changing dynamics in Mafalda’s relationships with her family and friends and perhaps obvious comparisons can be drawn with Wonder by RJ Palacio. The story has been beautifully translated by Denise Muir, whose use of language throughout the book is almost poetic. Despite the inevitability of the progression of Mafalda’s disease, the book is full of hope, optimism and love.
Although the pace of the narrative would make me consider carefully before using it as a class novel, The Distance Between Me And The Cherry Tree is certainly one for the bookshelf. There are many children in Year 5 and 6 who would absolutely devour it and be drawn completely into its substantial emotional depths.
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