Summary: No Matter the Distance
No Matter the Distance is Cindy Baldwin’s latest middle grade offering and the first ever OwnVoices cystic fibrosis story. It centers young Penny, a middle schooler with cystic fibrosis. Penny has to take digestive enzymes and do her breathing treatments to help her lungs get rid of mucus that affects her breathing. While her CF case is relatively mild-moderate, she still struggles with being chronically ill. One day a dolphin shows up in the lake near their house and Penny feels a strong connection with the animal. It turns out the dolphin (who Penny names Rose) is also sick and needs to return to her pod to get better. Penny may be the only one who can help the scientists take Rose back. But can she do that, when she feels so drawn to the animal?
Penny is a likable character and her narration is engaging. Readers learn a lot about what it means to have CF and the challenges of finding a truly understanding community, considering that CF-ers have to stay at least 6 feet apart from each other to avoid transferring deadly bacteria between each other.
Penny parents are loving and supportive, albeit occasionally worried about her health. I loved that they advocated for her, listened to her, and did their best to care for her emotional health — as they did for her physical. She has a big sister who is sweet and supportive as well. Penny also has a best friend who sees beyond her CF. She’s not bothered when Penny has to get nebulized and she shares other interests with her besides the disease.
The connection between Penny and Rose is sweet and often borders on magical realism (which I’m always iffy about). Penny can summon Rose and hear the dolphin’s feelings, which are often parallel to hers. The parallelism was a cool device as both Rose and Penny are isolated from their family (Penny from fellow CF-ers), dealing with illness, and in need of belonging.
I was a bit skeptical about the verse format of this one, and in the end, that’s the reason I wavered between a 4 or 5-star rating. It worked well, and Baldwin’s writing is strong, but I also just felt it did not have to be in verse.
Overall: No Matter the Distance
No Matter the Distance is a beautiful middle grade verse novel about living with cystic fibrosis and finding belonging in community. Also starring an adorable dolphin and warm family dynamics, this book will appeal to kids who love animals, books about sisters, and stories about chronic illness and disability.