I am always super keen to read books with chronic illness and disability rep and this one features two teens with cystic fibrosis.
I’m also super wary of books with disability rep because a lot of hurt can easily be spread — whether intentionally or not. I tried to find some #ownvoices reviews for CF but didn’t come across any (let me know if know of any and I can link to them!). So I went into this book cautious but hopeful. And I do think it was a good story…
…but I was also worried about some things (I felt) were problematic. Not having CF, of course, I’m just coming from this from a place of someone knowledgeable on disabilities, but not chronic illnesses. So pls bear that in mind.
Also it has a curious origin story! As far as I understand, it was written off the screenplay. The movie came first! I’d still like to see the movie and I was totally picture Will as Cole Sprouse (Jughead vibes lmao) the whole time. This book was made for his attitude haha.
EDIT UPDATE! I since have watched this CF vlogger do a reaction to the trailer and they seemed super positive about the rep! So that’s definitely great. I would be curious, however, to know what a CF person thought of the ending though.
➸ The story…
Ok we all know it’s here to tug on heartstrings. It’s classic YA #sicklit (totally brought back TFIOS vibes) and it’s easy to be invested in the story! Plus it’s short, written in an easy manner, and honestly I just whipped through it.
Will and Stella were both intriguing protagonists. They had the potential to be unlikeable, with Will all into self-destructive “screw the world!” vibes and Stella being obsessively controlling. But when you stop to think about why they were like that?? I really felt for them.
On the outside we have Will being a privilege little brat and skipping expensive treatments and declaring he’s running away from hospitals as soon as he’s 18…but the kid is super super depressed. He’s basically been told he’s going to die, but also hi, here are hospital walls for the remainder of your short short life. There’s no cure for his strain of CF, so yes: he’s got a countdown on his head. And with Stella: she’s trying to hold her parents’ marriage together and wearing herself out being positive and perky because people find that more “inspiring” than if she shows she’s actually struggling. It’s the “Ooh look at this suffering girl, doing great no matter what!” She’s basically made herself inspiration porn just to try and cope. It’s so so sad and exhausting.
You kind of expect how the plot will unfold…I mean, forbidden romance. CF patients are highly contagious to each other and need to stay away. Will and Stella flirt around the edges of the rules. They’re each other’s only “option” in a long hospital stay where they’re lonely and their families don’t “get” what they’re going through. I don’t like instalove in books, but this also made sense for their situation.
➸ Let’s talk about the themes though…
I’m uncomfortable with some of the themes, though of course this is just my interpretation.
1) This whole “can you love someone you can’t touch?!”…I truly find it frustrating that people can say love must rely on physical interaction. So many people are have severe touch-aversion. So many people have epic internet friendships.
2) The message of “you’re not living unless you’re EXPERIENCING THE WORLD!” This is such a danger zone ugh I will throw up a little. They did this in Everything, Everything and I’m still upset. Don’t tell kids and teens that they’re not “living” unless they’re having abled experiences. You can have a beautiful and fulfilled life, even if you’re not able to go places. Now obviously this book is about chronic illness and two kids who are facing short life spans too. That’s horrible and unfair and I ached for them. Plus they wanted to travel and see the world, and if you WANT that, then having your body rob you of that opportunity is super unfair. However society has a history of saying people who are ill/disabled have “lesser lives” and it’s truly a message we need to stop insinuating. I also don’t feel comfortable with plots that end up to the “I’d rather have LOVE than have LIFE”. Anyway, long ramble, but this is just to say: it’s fair to hate your illness, to hate how it can wreck your life. But it is not fair for books to keep on hammering in this line about how life isn’t worth living if you can’t do everything. I just would like to see these themes explored with more nuance.
3) Also full warning for a very problematic trope. There’s no excuse for this being in here.
While there was plenty to like about Five Feet Apart, with characters who had complex emotional reactions…I’m too cautious of some of the messages it promotes. But Will and Stella both had amazing character arcs though and it does bring aaaall the feels.
Thanks Simon & Schuster for the review-copy! Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott was published January 2019.
Can you love someone you can never touch?
Stella Grant likes to be in control—even though her totally out of control lungs have sent her in and out of the hospital most of her life. At this point, what Stella needs to control most is keeping herself away from anyone or anything that might pass along an infection and jeopardize the possibility of a lung transplant. Six feet apart. No exceptions.
The only thing Will Newman wants to be in control of is getting out of this hospital. He couldn’t care less about his treatments, or a fancy new clinical drug trial. Soon, he’ll turn eighteen and then he’ll be able to unplug all these machines and actually go see the world, not just its hospitals.
Will’s exactly what Stella needs to stay away from. If he so much as breathes on Stella she could lose her spot on the transplant list. Either one of them could die. The only way to stay alive is to stay apart. But suddenly six feet doesn’t feel like safety. It feels like punishment.
What if they could steal back just a little bit of the space their broken lungs have stolen from them? Would five feet apart really be so dangerous if it stops their hearts from breaking too?
➸ YOU SHOULD ALSO TRY…
have you read many books with chronically ill characters? are they stories you like or…too sad?! are you going to see the movie for this one?