Five Feet Apart

by Rachael Lippincott

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Five Feet Apart is a 2018 young adult novel written by American writer Rachael Lippincott. It follows the love story between Stella Grant and Will Newman, two teenagers living with cystic fibrosis who are patients in the same hospital. As it mainly focuses on the relationship between Stella and Will, the novel can also be considered a romance. Stella is committed to following her treatment plan as closely as possible while awaiting a lung transplant. Will is the opposite of Stella: because his cystic fibrosis has been diagnosed as terminal, he doesn’t care about the treatment. He just wants to unplug the machines and celebrate his eighteenth birthday as any normal teenager would. Despite their contrasting personalities, Will and Stella fall in love with each other. Their relationship is particularly complicated by the rule that cystic fibrosis patients must maintain at least a six-foot distance from each other in the hospital—a rule which Will convinces Stella to bend by shortening the distance between them to five feet rather than six. This title is reflective of the compromise Will and Stella have come to: they will still remain distant, but it will be a distance they agree upon. They do not blindly follow one of their inclinations—Will’s to rebel, or Stella’s to adhere to rules—but instead find an in-between. To be five feet apart is to be closer than they “should” be, but not as close as they’d wish to be.

Lippincott incorporates a myriad of emotional and meaningful themes, such as love, romance, friendship, loneliness, isolation, fear, hope, guilt, happiness, longing, and family. The story alternates between the different points of view of both Stella and Will, and the narratives equally complement each other. While some readers have argued that the book doesn’t give an entirely accurate depiction of cystic fibrosis from a medical perspective, many agree that it perfectly describes the emotional state of those living with the disease, their thought processes, and their coping mechanisms.

Five Feet Apart received generally positive reviews by critics and readers alike. Many praised Lippincott’s captivating, genuine, and well-structured prose, her likable and often relatable characters, and her decision to have an open ending, which left the majority of readers feeling hopeful and satisfied. However, the novel was also criticized for its predictable and melodramatic plot, its underdeveloped and one-dimensional characters, and the unnecessary romanticization of cystic fibrosis. Because of the similar narratives, Five Feet Apart has often been compared to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

Like many novels in the young adult genre, the main characters fulfill an archetype. Will is rebellious, perhaps a bit mysterious, and has strong ambitions to lead a life outside of the status quo. In his case, this rebellion involves seizing the reigns of his life back and not wasting away in the hospital undergoing experimental treatments for his terminal case. On the contrary, Stella is a rule-follower, bright, and routine-oriented. She has hope of recovery with a transplant. Therefore, her outlook is quite different than that of her romantic interest, Will. She fits the Type A personality while Will fits into Type B. Though their characters are indeed formulaic, Lippincott also emphasizes the value of having different dispositions. Sometimes the best matches—whether they be friends, family, or romantic partners—are those that complement us rather than mirror us. These characters challenge one another to see the world differently: this is the appeal of their predictability.

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