Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Stella Grant is a chronically ill teen with cystic fibrosis (CF). She’s been in and out of hospitals for lengthy treatments most of her life. A rule-follower and control freak, Stella is careful to take her medications on time and do whatever is needed to maintain her treatment regimen. Only then can she hope for a lung transplant.
She maintains a website through which tens of thousands of viewers follow her journey. Her friend, Poe, who also has CF, is a patient at the same hospital. They communicate frequently, but often via text. Individuals with CF must remain 6 feet apart at all times to avoid sharing life-threatening germs.
Will Newman is a new patient at the hospital. His wealthy mother has arranged for him to participate in clinical trials all over the world. Nothing has helped. Will’s problem is worse than Stella’s and Poe’s. On top of CF, he has a condition called B. cepacia, which will deplete his lung function rapidly. This condition makes him ineligible for a lung transplant and far more dangerous to other CF patients.
Will’s mother has signed him up for another trial at this hospital, but Will has given up on getting better. He’s days from turning 18. When he’s a legal adult, his mother can no longer force him into treatments. He ignores his prescribed medications and bides his time until he can leave the hospital.
Shortly after Will arrives, he lets his friends Jason and Hope use his hospital room for sex. Stella dislikes the way Will spurns the rules, and she ignores him. Despite their initial animosity, the two develop an interest in one another.
Stella convinces Will to give this new B. cepacia treatment a fair shot. She helps him set up his pills and creates alarms to remind them to take their medications and exercise together. They roam the hospital whenever they can get past Nurse Barb, but they’re always cautious to keep the 6 feet of distance between them.
Will learns Stella is still grieving the death of her older sister and best friend, Abby. Abby died a year ago in a diving accident. Stella blames herself; she was supposed to go on the trip but had a CF flare up and backed out. Stella’s parents have divorced under the strain of one daughter’s death and another’s chronic illness. When Stella develops an infection during her stay in the hospital, Will tries to comfort her in the way Abby once did.
Stella and Will attempt to “date” from 6 feet apart. She invites Poe, her friends and Will’s friends to a secret 18th birthday party for Will at the hospital. They enjoy the time until Barb catches on and shuts them down. Readers learn Barb watched a pair of young lovers with CF die years earlier because they ignored their 6-foot boundaries.
In an uncharacteristic act of rebellion against CF, Stella decides to “take back” a foot the illness has stolen from her and Will. She decides that if they’re very careful to keep themselves disinfected and wear sterile gloves, they can maintain a distance of 5 feet instead of 6. Stella carries around a pool stick, 5 feet in length, so she and Will can gauge their boundary.
Poe dies suddenly, leaving Stella to grieve for another person close to her. When Will and Stella escape from the hospital for a date one night, Stella gets a text saying new lungs have arrived for her. She doesn’t respond to the text because she wants nothing more than to be with Will.
When Stella falls through ice on a frozen pond, Will is forced to give her CPR. He’s afraid she won’t be able to accept the new lungs because he’s poisoned her with his B. cepacia. The doctors follow through with the lung surgery, but Will realizes he has to get away from Stella so she will have a chance to live a healthy life. He packs up and leaves the hospital.
Eight months later, Stella’s new lungs are working well, and she’s enjoying good health. Will and a friend are off to Italy when they see Stella and her friends in the airport. The girls are preparing to board the same flight. Will looks tired and carries oxygen while Stella is breathing well with her new lungs. They smile at each other from 5 feet apart.
Will tells Stella he believes there is nothing after death but the big sleep.
Stella’s concerned parents have recently divorced. Both feel burdened by Stella’s illness and the death of their other daughter, Abby. They get back together in the end. Will feels his mother is overbearing in her efforts to get him medical help, but he realizes she does it out of love. Barb militantly tries to keep Stella and Will apart. She witnessed a deadly tragedy years earlier when two CFers in love didn’t mind their physical boundaries.
The Lord’s name is used in vain. The words a–, s—, the f-word, an-l, d–n, d–k, h—, suck, p—, freaking and screw also appear frequently. Characters give each other the middle finger.
Will lets his friends Jason and Hope use his hospital room for sex. Will says most guys with cystic fibrosis are infertile, so he doesn’t have to worry about getting anyone pregnant. He says Jason probably wishes he had that going for him right now.
When Stella criticizes Will for letting people use his room for sex, he asks her what she has against sex. She tells him she’s had sex, and it is fine, but not worth dying for. Will seems to disagree. She later admits she lied about having sex and is a virgin.
Poe says that Stella organizing Will’s med cart is like foreplay. Will jokes about wanting to have sex in the Vatican. Poe is gay. He and Stella often discuss his relationships with guys. Will and Stella strip down to almost nothing at the hospital pool.
Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In’s movie review for Five Feet Apart.
You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.