A gripping, almost flawless, character driven novel that will pull at your heartstrings: this is the 2019 equivalent of the now classic ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.
Stella Grant should be basking on a beach on her senior year trip. Instead, her cystic fibrosis means she’s again checking into the hospital that has been her second home since she was a small child. She’s determine to get well and has a detailed list of the actions she needs to take. Falling in love is not on her list, especially with someone like Will Newman. Will also has cystic fibrosis and cross-infection from certain bacteria strains can literally kill both of them. For patients with cystic fibrosis there is a strict rule: they must be six feet apart at all times. But staying away from the love of your life to save your (and their) life is practically impossible. How can they get closer – can they, for example, risk being just five feet apart?
Five Feet Apart is an almost flawless, character driven novel that will pull at your heartstrings. The story is told in chapters that alternate between Stella and Will’s first person voice. The name of whose chapter we’re entering is stated clearly at the start of each chapter but this is really unnecessary. The two voices are totally distinct and there is never a moment’s confusion over whose point of view we are in.
I personally found myself more drawn to control-freak Stella (perhaps reflecting my gender and preference for an ordered and planned life). However, unlike many dual narrative books where the reader has a favourite character, I never had the slightest urge to skip ahead in order to get to Stella’s chapters. Will is simply too interesting a character and, as with every page of this book, I wanted to savour every moment I spent sharing his thoughts and feelings.
In addition to our two viewpoint characters, there’s an incredibly strong supporting cast. I suspect most readers will warm to Stella’s friends Camila and Mya as well as her best friend, Poe, who has also spent the majority of his life checking in and out of hospital for regular treatments. Will’s friends, Jason and Hope, are equally appealing but the character I loved the most has to be Barb, the strict nurse that Will and Stella spend so much of the book trying to avoid. Only towards the end of the novel do we realise why she is quite so tough on them.
For a story that’s largely confined with the walls of a single hospital, there is a remarkable amount of plot that keeps the reader turning the pages. Indeed, this quickly became one of those special books that I kept almost constantly clutched to my side, just in case I had a few minutes for a sneaky read. (If you decide to follow my example, I’d advise you resist taking it on your daily commute – unless you’re happy for strangers to watch you bawling your eyes out!)
This is a gripping read that packs a powerful emotional punch. It’s also very informative about cystic fibrosis. While the author’s note at the back makes it clear Will’s drug trial is fictitious, there is much in the book that can help spread awareness of this condition.
If you enjoyed this, you really must read equally wonderful and moving The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. If you’ve already read that, why not join me in reading Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon.
Publication Date: January 2019
Publisher: Simon and Schuster