Despite the controversy over the portrayal of Cystic Fibrosis, the inclusion of almost every overused trope in YA lit, the archetypal characters, and the manipulation I feel over the way this book was published, I absolutely loved Five Feet Apart! Do you feel like you’re getting mixed messages from me? I get it. And you will, too, after reading my review.
Stella and Will have one huge thing in common but they are as different as two teens can be. They both are dying from Cystic Fibrosis and have been in and out of hospitals (more in than out) their entire lives. Will’s mother has taken him to hospitals all over the world. Stella’s parents have kept her close to home at their local hospital and it’s the one to which Will was just admitted. Stella handles her CF by being regimented and disciplined. She obsesses over to-do lists and her treatment plan. She encourages others CFers on her YouTube channel. Will handles his CF by rebelling against everything. He’s going to die anyway, so what’s the point? The guidelines of CF make it clear that people with CF are not to be within 6 feet of each other. The fear of cross-infection is just too great. And if one of those CFers is afflicted with B. cenocepacia (a complication of CF), the separation is an even greater matter of life and death. Will just happens to be afflicted with B. cenocepacia. As is inevitable, Stella and Will fall in love. Can you imagine a romance with a person you can’t touch or kiss? Quel Tragique!!! Watching their sweet and tragic love story unfold will make you swoon and break your heart.
Yes, this story is more Sick Lit. It is impossible not to compare it to The Fault in Our Stars and the several other stories I have read like it. Cystic Fibrosis is a new angle, but it’s still a story that romanticizes terminal illness. Many people with a vested interest in CF have opinions on this book and upcoming movie, ranging from excitement over increasing CF awareness to fear of CFers disregarding their treatment regimens and guidelines. Specifically, disregarding the guideline of keeping six feet away from other CFers (BTW, there’s a reason the title is Five Feet Apart instead of Six Feet Apart - you’ll have to read the book or watch the movie to find out). Yes, this story includes many overused YA lit tropes, including: Instalove, Bury Your Gays, I Hate You / I Love You, and more. Yes, the characters are archetypal: the organized, rule-following girl; the rebel boy; the sassy gay best friend; the strict but loving nurse. But I can handle all of these flaws when the story is sweet, the plot gives me something unexpected (there’s some serious nail biting tension toward the end of this one!), and the romance is swoony. Stella and Will are precious and I cared so much about them individually and as an ill-fated couple.
Here’s the thing I’m a bit hung up on, though. Five Feet Apart was a screenplay and its movie was in production before the book was ever written. Publisher, Simon and Schuster, searched for an author to turn the screenplay into a novel. Is this an attempt to capitalize on teens who like to read the book before they see the movie? Is it a marketing ploy to increase ticket sales? The book was released in November of 2018 and the movie comes out in March. In Paste magazine, the director is quoted as saying, “The novel will allow the audience to get a step closer to this world and spark a fire in their hearts to root for this love story. I am so grateful to be bringing this book to life with our friends at Simon & Schuster.”
But I don’t know . . . I’m not sure how I feel about this and will be interested to see if this becomes a trend.
The movie starring Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson will be released on March 15. Read it before you see it! Check out the trailer:
Despite some of these less-than-positive observations, I adored Five Feet Apart and will definitely be watching the movie. I know teens will, too.
In case you’re interested in the articles I read regarding the controversy in the CF community as well as the writing of the book based on the screenplay:
Cystic Fibrosis Advocates are Worried about the Film Five Feet Apart - Quartz
In Defense of Five Feet Apart , Sort of - Cystic Fibrosis News Today
The Five Feet Apart Trailer . . . is Here - Teen Vogue
Alumna Lands on NYT Bestseller List with Help of Faculty Mentor - Pittwire
Exclusive Cover Reveal: Teens with Cystic Fibrosis Fall in Love in Rachael Lippincott's Five Feet Apart - Paste