Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott is a novel about two teenagers, Will and Stella, who fall in love while in the hospital receiving treatment for cystic fibrosis. To minimize the risk of infection, they must stay six feet away from each other. As the narration alternates between Will’s and Stella’s perspectives, readers are given a sense of their differing personalities right from the start, as well as insight into their thoughts as they fall for one another.
Stella begins chapter 1 with a to-do list, a freshly decorated room, and a new video for her YouTube channel. Her narration provides the sense that Stella makes these videos as a coping mechanism and a way to inspire others living with cystic fibrosis (abbreviated as CF).
“New lungs can come in at any moment, so I’ve got to be ready!” I say the words like I believe them wholeheartedly. Though after all these years I’ve learned to not get my hopes up too much.
DING! Another message.
I’ve got CF and you remind me to always stay positive. XOXO.
My heart warms, and I give a final big smile for the camera, for that person fighting the same fight that I am. This time it’s genuine. “All right, guys, thanks for watching! Gotta double-check my afternoon and evening meds now. You know how anal I am. I hope everyone has a great week. Bye!”
Stella sees Will for the first time at the end of the chapter, and after she passes him, the narration switches to Will’s point of view in chapter 2. While Stella tries to spread messages of positivity, Will has a different take.
I come face to face with the empty sockets of the skull drawing on my door, an O2 mask slung over its mouth, with the words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” written under it.
That should be the slogan for this hospital. Or any of the other fifty I’ve been in for the past eight months of my life.
Will does not have the same hope that Stella has. These two opening chapters are important because they establish the characters’ different outlooks on life and hint that they have something to learn from each other.
Although the characters have different attitudes, the dual perspective allows us to see how Will and Stella are both immediately attracted to one another, as is clear when Stella sees Will coming out of his hospital room.
I stop dead.
His tousled, dark-chocolate-brown hair is perfectly unruly, like he just popped out of a Teen Vogue and landed smack in the middle of Saint Grace’s Hospital. His eyes are a deep blue, the corners crinkling as he talks.
But it’s his smile that catches my eye more than anything else. It’s lopsided, and charming, and it has a magnetic warmth to it.
He’s so cute, my lung function feels like it dropped another 10 percent.
Stella’s quip about lung function refers to the trope of feeling breathless when seeing someone attractive, as well as to the way cystic fibrosis has literally affected her lungs.
After leaving his room, Will follows Stella to the Neonatal ICU.
She’s prettier up close, with her long eyelashes and her full eyebrows. She even makes a face mask look good. I watch as she brushes her wavy, sandy-brown hair out of her eyes, staring at the baby through the glass with a determined focus.
With Stella mentioning lung function and Will mentioning Stella’s face mask, Lippincott reminds us of the reality of the situation.
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and Will come to terms with their illness, they reflect on what it means to be alive. The novel contains many memorable quotes about living life to the fullest:
“If this is all we get, then let’s take it. I want to be fearless and free,” she says, giving me a look, daring me. “It’s just life, Will. It’ll be over before we know it.”
Don’t think about what you’ve lost. Think of how much you have to gain. Live, Stella.
If I’m going to die, I’d like to actually live first.
Everyone in this world is breathing borrowed air.
These quotations can allow all readers, even those without a chronic illness, to think deeply about their lives.