The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree

Mafalda is a nine-year-old girl suffering from Stargardt disease, which causes gradual vision loss and eventual blindness. With the doctors estimating that she has only six months before her vision fails completely, Mafalda begins to write a list of all the things she loves and won’t be able to do any more.

All children are scared of the dark, reads the opening line of Paola Peretti’s heartfelt and moving novel, and before the story ends, young Mafalda will find herself forced to contemplate all of her deepest fears and anxieties. She is not afraid of anything that might lurk in the dark, but rather of the darkness itself. She fears that moment when the lights inside her own head fail to turn on, and how her life will change because of this.

Peretti’s book is not an easy one to read. The unflinching honesty of Mafalda’s plight contributes to an oppressive atmosphere that is quite hard to take. It is to Peretti’s credit then that this ultimately becomes an inspiring and hopeful story, and this is down in huge part to the wonderful friendship crafted between Mafalda and Estella, a Polish caretaker who works at Mafalda’s school. Estella knows better than anyone how the frailties of one’s own body can be turned against them, and together the two characters begin to focus less on what they cannot do, and more on what they might be able to encourage and inspire in each other. A challenging, but incredibly honest book.