Young Love and Disease

Summer 2019
illustration by Lisa Perrin/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
What has been the most surprising reaction to Rachael Lippincott’s novel Five Feet Apart, about two teens with cystic fibrosis falling in love in between treatments? Outrage over the lobster. 
There’s no way they would have lobster in the hospital! Lippincott recalls the mom of a cystic fibrosis patient telling her, joking about a cafeteria meal her characters eat. Lippincott says with a laugh, “I was like, Yeah, that’s totally fair!” 
Despite the lobster, Lippincott, age 24, was conscious of accurately portraying the experiences of patients and families living with cystic fibrosis, a lifelong disease that clogs up lungs and other organs with mucus. 
Lippincott wrote the book after her mentor at Pitt, young adult author Siobhan Vivian, told her that Simon and Schuster was looking to adapt the screenplay of Five Feet Apart into a novel. Fresh out of studying writing as an undergrad at Pitt (Lippincott graduated in ’17), she submitted a draft to the publisher—and landed the gig. As of this writing, Five Feet Apart has been on The New York Times Bestseller List for more than 20 weeks.
The movie came out this March. (That included a scene with an eight-lobster feast; Lippincott’s lobster was more subdued, a pasta dish.) Justin Baldoni, the director, collaborated on the screenplay with Claire Wineland, a vlogger and patient activist who died recently at 21. Then “I watched a bunch of Claire’s videos,” Lippincott says. That’s one way Lippincott learned about the physical, mental, and emotional impact of the disease. She also scoured the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation site, scrolled through countless CF Reddit forums, and watched other CF vloggers describe drug trials, hospital stays, and daily routines. 
Lippincott says speaking with patients and families has been the best part of writing the novel. “Places where they saw themselves in the book have been incredible,” Lippincott says. “Honestly, their opinion matters most of all.”