The Distance Between Me and The Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti is a story told
with such honesty and matter-of-fact bravery that it will stick with you long
after you leave its pages.
It tells the story of 9 year old Mafalda, who is slowly losing
her sight due to a genetic disorder known as Stargadt Disease which causes
progressive vision loss, and eventual blindness. It is a disease the author Paola
Peretti shares, after discovering she possesses it fifteen years ago. Mafalda’s
world is defined by her slowly disintegrating sight, the way her family
treats her, the things she is allowed to do – and not supposed to do. Her best friend
is her cat and she confides in the main character of her favourite book about her
fears and worries. It is telling that she admires and loves a character who goes
on grand adventures and has freedom to do what he wants.
Mafalda’s frank sincerity is a stand out feature of the novel. She measures her sight from how many steps she can see herself in the mirror and thinks often about the things
she can still see and worries about the day she will not be able to see them
She has to discover the things that will bring her joy and will give her power without her sight. The book becomes an even more powerful statement when you realise the words that Mafalda is speaking are likely thoughts that Peretti has had herself.
Mafalda’s voice is that of a child, so she can examine her world and how her disease afects her through a more innocent perspective than that of an adult.
Her story is a from an angle that isn’t usually one given to young readers and they will be all the better for it. Because of the voice of the story, Mafalda’s tale may appeal more to younger readers, but personally, I spent a beautiful lyrical afternoon in her company and would heartily recommend it to lovers of novels such as Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.
Those wonderful stories of strong girls who are determined to tell their stories and share them with the world, just like Mafalda.