You guys, this book made me laugh. It made me cry. Most of all, it made me feel things and experience the highs and lows of the story in the most vivid way. Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis tells the story of two teenagers diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a hereditary disease that can dramatically affect the lungs and digestive system. I really loved the book and wanted to share a little bit about why. Also, the movie is out in theaters now so be sure to check that out, too!
I do not have Cystic Fibrosis, and I 100% understand that there are inaccuracies in the story, and that certain elements are underdeveloped in a way that does a disservice to the CF community. I’m adding this disclaimer because I still think the story, taken on its own terms, is worth sharing, worth reading, and is good in its own self. Here is a link to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s website for more information.
I’ve read quite a few beautifully written reviews by individuals with CF explaining why the book and movie are problematic, and encourage you to check those out as well. Here’s one by Colleen Michelle Lewis on her blog, and here’s one by Gunnar Esiason, both of whom are living with CF. However, this is Rachael Lippincott’s first book, and I think especially keeping in mind the tight timeline she turned around this novel on, it’s very well written and I am looking forward to reading more of her work. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the writing, which I disagree with, and I hope that even if you can’t respect certain elements/portrayals in the book, you can acknowledge how well a brand new writer did in putting together a moving, fresh story on a really tight deadline.
Stella is such a richly relatable character. I love Rachael Lippincott’s writing because her characters are so alive and vibrant. There wasn’t a single moment I felt like I was reading; instead, I felt like I was right there and that the characters were old friends. Stella creates and follows rigid routines, especially for her CF treatment, and follows all of the guidelines that should help her stay healthy. Stella is a character who feels so real because her emotions are laid out in such a raw, honest way. Her frustration, her fear of leaving her parents emotionally wrecked, her sense of blame, guilt, and responsibility for those around her, her desire to live an exciting life contrasting with her need for treatments–all of it culminated in this character who I absolutely loved.
When she meets Will, who at the beginning of the story is tired of doing his treatments, the two immediately seem to have nothing in common. The truth is, though, they are so similar because deep down, they’re afraid of living a life that isn’t valuable or meaningful. I know Will is a highly controversial character, but in all honesty, I loved him. Teenagers aren’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. No one handles a difficult situation with grace all the time, and Will shows so much growth and depth throughout the story that I was completely invested. There are so many amazing, real moments with Will that I loved. I won’t spoil it, but one of my favorite scenes involved Will doing some serious sneaking to comfort Stella during a pretty scary time for her.
I can’t possibly talk about the characters in Five Feet Apart without mentioning Poe. Poe is everything you’ve ever wanted in a best friend and more. Even though people with CF can’t get closer than six feet apart (because of the risk of sharing infections that could threaten their lives) Stella and Poe have one of the most dynamic, beautiful friendships I’ve seen in a YA novel in a long time. I think Rachael Lippincott did a magnificent job creating realistic conflict in friendships and also realistic resolution for those problems. Moments of heartache were so resounding and moments of joy brought the story to life. I’ve read reviews where the critic felt Poe was underdeveloped as a character, stereotyped, and only present to support Stella. I didn’t feel the same way, and Poe as a character was one of my favorite elements of the story. Even if he was only present for some moments, those moments were pivotal. I felt his personality in the pages–not just a shadow, but a rich character.
The familial vibes of the nurses in the story also were an element I loved. Even though initially they (obviously) want Stella and Will nowhere near each other, there comes a point when they understand that a type of love like that is rare, and that deep down, both Will and Stella will realize what they have to do. Every character had complex involvement in the story–none of them seemed flat to me, and I loved it. I’m such a fan of rich character writing, and this book has that on a beautiful level.
One of the main criticisms I’ve seen for Five Feet Apart is that it’s just another “sick teen love story” (which, as a category, makes no sense to me) or comparing it directly to The Fault in Our Stars. The thing is, this book is entirely new. Yes, there are many YA and adult books about diseases. Yes, there are books about teenagers who absolutely can’t be together who fall in love. The thing about stories is that there are a million ways to tell a story. Cystic Fibrosis is a harrowing disease, and it deserves attention on a bigger level. This book, and the movie, are bringing light to the disease. Additionally, the book doesn’t feel forced at all. The plot feels entirely new to me, and honestly, I think it was done beautifully and in a way that’s relatable to every single person who reads it.
There are moments and scenes throughout the story that I loved. I can’t wait to see how they come to life in the movie. I stayed up until 1 a.m. the night I started the book to read half, and then finished the second half on a long car ride. I laughed out loud, I cried, I celebrated. The story was alive and moving. I loved it.
I want to be a writer, and am working on writing a novel. From the writing perspective, I absolutely adored what Rachael Lippincott put together. I heard about the book originally because I’m such a big fan of Siobhan Vivian (I met her this summer and would love to have a mentor like her). Rachael was Siobhan’s student at the University of Pittsburgh, and Siobhan mentored her throughout the process of writing the book. I’m so inspired by Rachael and can’t wait to read more of her work.
Writing-wise, this book is everything I hoped it would be. The writing was honest, and felt realistic to teenagers. I personally feel like many of the “bad” reviews on YA fiction criticize the impulsivity of the characters, or how “dramatic” things are made to be. The thing is, teenagers are dramatic. When you’re young, every emotion can be all-consuming. A good YA novel captures the frustration of this and turns it into something relatable, and this book definitely did that. Both characters knew they couldn’t be together, but we genuinely can’t help who we fall in love with. Is it 100% realistic that they’d be allowed close enough together to fall in love in the first place? Probably not. But it is a story that shines some light on a disease many people fight, and that many people know nothing about. None of the conversations in the book seemed forced, and there weren’t any moments that felt like “filler”. Every scene, conversation, and character was balanced in a way I hope I can pull off in my own writing.
Have you read Five Feet Apart? Let me know! I love chatting about books on Instagram, so feel free to send me a message.