Five Feet Apart

by Rachael Lippincott

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Five Feet Apart Themes

The main themes in Five Feet Apart are life and death, love, and rebellion.

  • Life and death: The novel explores what makes life worth living through the relationship between Stella and Will, both of whom have cystic fibrosis, a potentially deadly disease.
  • Love in many forms: The love Stella feels for Will, Poe, and Abby demonstrates the idea that love in all its forms is an essential part of a meaningful life.
  • The necessity of rebellion for freedom: Will convinces Stella to rebel against some of the rules imposed on them, believing that living life fully is more important than extending life as long as possible.


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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Life and Death

Five Feet Apart explores questions of life and death in harrowing detail. Throughout the novel, the characters’ lives are in constant danger. Stella and Will both have cystic fibrosis, and if they contract each other’s bacterial infections, they will likely die from them. The protagonist, Stella, experiences the deaths of several people around her, including her older sister prior to the events of the novel, and her good friend Poe, who dies from cystic fibrosis. Will’s illness is severe enough that even a lung transplant won’t be enough to save his life, and he considers his death inevitable. Instead of focusing on his treatment, Will commits to living a full life with the time he has left, an outlook that Stella begins to adopt as well. When she takes this attitude too far, however, choosing to continue spending time with Will rather than return to the hospital for her lung transplant, it is Will who tries to convince her to prioritize her health. Through all of these events, the novel emphasizes the fleeting nature of life and the importance of filling it with meaningful relationships and significant experiences.

Love in Many Forms

Through Stella’s relationships with others, Five Feet Apart demonstrates that love is one of the most important and meaningful aspects of a person’s life. The novel explores love in several forms: the romantic love between Stella and Will, the familial love between Stella and her older sister, and the loving friendship between Stella and Poe. While the deaths of her sister and Poe are painful for Stella, the relationships she shared with them give meaning to her life, as does her relationship with Will, whose death from cystic fibrosis appears inevitable. Will encourages Stella to take risks for love, such as closing the requisite distance between them by a foot and ice-skating with him on the frozen pond. These risks are dangerous for both of them but also help Stella feel fully alive, just as her early conversations with Will allowed her to feel truly understood. In Five Feet Apart, love is a powerful force, one that gives life meaning and richness in many ways.

The Necessity of Rebellion for Freedom

Because her life is at stake while she waits for a lung transplant, Stella is forced to spend a great deal of time and energy observing rules and guidelines designed to prevent her from contracting deadly infections. These rules, particularly the mandate that cystic fibrosis patients remain six feet apart from one another at all times, begin to feel more burdensome when Stella falls in love with Will and when her friend Poe dies. Will actively rebels against the guidelines imposed upon them by the disease, especially because his own cystic fibrosis has been diagnosed as terminal. For him, living life to its fullest is more important than merely prolonging it, and he plans to stop treatment as soon as he turns eighteen. His outlook and Poe’s death significantly influence Stella’s attitude to her treatment, leading her to abandon some of her previously rigid health regimen. These acts of rebellion have potentially dire consequences, and Stella and Will must ultimately decide how to balance staying alive with pursuing a life worth living. Stella and Will’s choices ultimately suggest that a meaningful life is not found in strictly adhering to every single rule, but instead in making meaningful choices that outweigh risks

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Chapter Summaries