‘Five Feet Apart’ author discusses love, life with lung disease and upcoming film


Rebecca Proulx



“Five Feet Apart” (Simon and Schuster) is a moving YA novel that captures the hearts of readers through its fragile tale of young love while giving much-needed attention to a debilitating lung disease: cystic fibrosis.

While there is no permanent cure for the disease at this time, there are a variety of treatment options available. The main characters, Stella Grant and Will Newman, have different forms of the disease and use their own coping methods to live with the condition.

Will has a more advanced complication of cystic fibrosis, Burkholderia cepacia (B. cepacia), and until he meets Stella, wishes to leave the hospital and all hope of recovery through treatment behind. He would rather live what is left of his life fully on his own terms, despite the risks.

Stella is in many ways his opposite. Instead of wishing to push all of her worries and treatment away, Stella does everything she can to remain in control, feeling unfairly guilty for the grief her parents suffer due to any of her health setbacks.

While the two get off to a rough start, Stella feels drawn to helping the stubborn Will find hope in treatment. Will finds inspiration to take better care of himself in complying with a medication schedule to make Stella happy.

As you can imagine, the opposites soon attract and develop strong feelings for one another. However, due to their medical conditions, they cannot be physically near each other without danger of worsening their diseases. To be precise, they must stay a safe distance of six feet apart. Their star-crossed relationship, akin to “The Fault in Our Stars,” offers a unique obstacle to their path, but not one that can affect their shrinking emotional distance.

Since its publication in November 2018, “Five Feet Apart” has gained a strong readership. Rachael Lippincott wrote the novel based on the original screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. The movie boasts an impressive cast with the leads of Cole Sprouse for Will Newman and Haley Lu Richardson for Stella Grant. As we are just days away from the story hitting the big screen, BookTrib sits down with author Rachael Lippincott.

BookTrib: What made you choose to write about two teens with cystic fibrosis? Was there any personal experience with the disease?

Rachael Lippincott: To be completely honest, I didn’t know about cystic fibrosis until I picked up the screenplay for “Five Feet Apart” and pored over it in one afternoon. I was so incredibly moved by Will and Stella and their story that I spent the rest of the night reading about CF and B. cepacia and medical statistics for the disease.

From that initial spark, my inspiration grew tenfold over the months that followed. It became about the real life Wills and Stellas. People like Claire Wineland, who stare CF in the face and inspire so many others to live a life that they can be proud of. It became about a mom in Des Moines with this superhuman perseverance to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation so that her daughter and so many other CFers can live to see a cure. It became about people that had never heard about cystic fibrosis reading Will and Stella’s story, or watching it on the big screen, and taking the time to open up google and learn about what the disease is.

That’s really what “Five Feet Apart” is about. Raising awareness about cystic fibrosis, and opening people’s eyes to this disease and the people that have it, whether they read the book or see the movie.

BT: You describe the treatments and daily routines of those living with cystic fibrosis in great detail. What was your research process like?

RL: Getting this right was definitely the most important thing for me when writing the book. I spent hours pouring over YouTube videos and Reddit forums trying to make sure I understood the treatments that were an everyday reality for these characters. If I didn’t know how something worked or didn’t feel like I completely understood it, I asked about it.

Aside from the research I did, the CF expert for the film was also tasked with reading through the manuscript to make sure that everything was accurate. There were a few things that she really broke down for me so that I could write about them in a factual manner.

Another huge factor was that I had the screenplay to go off of. The screenplay was really the compilation of Mikki and Tobias’s work and research into the treatments and daily routines of those living with CF, and provided a great outline for what I needed to explore and expand on in the book. Every draft of the screenplay they wrote was read by Claire Wineland, an activist, YouTube star and CFer, so when I received the screenplay there was already this great foundation to build off of.

BT: Despite the physical distance Will and Stella must maintain with their conditions, they become emotionally very close. What was it like developing genuine chemistry and a close relationship between two individuals who could not be near each other without danger?

RL: I think, if anything, it added to the intensity of the chemistry between Will and Stella. When you have a barrier like that, a physical barrier of distance, it amplifies the longing and this raw emotional need to be close to the other person. In writing it, I certainly had to delve into that experience and feel that very real heartache.

What is especially great about Will and Stella is that at every juncture of this book they have these incredibly deep and incredibly strong emotional reactions and feelings towards one another. What starts out as them butting heads turns into care and then, really, the purest of loves. (They definitely function at the top of the chemistry chart!)

BT: How closely does the film follow the book?

RL: I think it’s going to be pretty close, but we’ll see! I know of a few scenes that are in the book that won’t be in the movie.

BT: What is one message you hope people take from the book and movie?

RL: I think the most important message of this story is to have the strength and the courage to truly live your life with an open mind and an open heart, no matter what your circumstances are.

BT: What are you working on now?

RL: I’m currently working on the first draft of a YA contemporary novel! I’m always working on something. When I’m not, I’m daydreaming about working on something.