THIS STAR WON’T GO OUT chronicles the life of Esther Grace Earl. Diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age twelve, she lived with the disease for four years. During that time, she befriended her favorite young adult author, John Green, at a Harry Potter convention. Green’s cross-generational friendship with Esther motivated him to write his New York Times bestselling novel, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, although the novel tells a far different story than Esther’s.
The story of Esther lives on between the pages of THIS STAR WON’T GO OUT. Her story unfolds through pages from her journals, her parents’ blog posts on their CaringBridge website, Skype transcripts from her chats with online friends, memories recorded by friends and family members, Esther’s drawings and short fiction and an introduction by John Green.
Because of her illness, Esther had to spend much of her adolescence in her bed. She wrote regularly in her journals, and excerpts from those journals fill this book with Esther’s distinct voice, which is playful, wise and loving. But sometimes she’s angry. Sometimes she’s despondent. She is often anxious that she isn’t doing enough in her life to help others, despite being mostly bedridden.
"THIS STAR WON’T GO OUT....reveals Esther’s indomitable spirit, her thoughts and fears about death, her goofy sense of humor and, much like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, reminds us that 'cancer kids' aren’t these gleaming beacons of Hope and Inspiration for us all; they are kids who happen to have cancer and have to learn to cope with that to the best of their ability."
Before her story became well-known within the community, she forged close friendships with a small group of John Green enthusiasts who met regularly in a Skype chatroom and called themselves Catitude. These friends were there for her when leaving her bedroom became difficult, and she encouraged them all to open up to each other and forge strong bonds. Plus, communicating from behind a computer screen meant that no one could see her oxygen tank. She no longer had to be the “kid with cancer.” She could just be “crazycrayon,” a funny and caring girl who loved Harry Potter and Doctor Who.
During her final months, Esther became something of an internet celebrity among nerdfighters, the community of fans that sprung up around the video blogs that John Green and his brother, Hank Green, produce. Nerdfighters are dedicated to increasing awesome and decreasing “worldsuck.” They celebrate intellectualism, curiosity and compassion. It was a group into which Esther fit effortlessly. When John shared Esther’s story with his community, nerdfighters who had never met Esther flooded her social media accounts with messages of love, hope and healing. The entire nerdfighter community felt the pain of her passing.
THIS STAR WON’T GO OUTis a rare look into the life of a young person living with and dying of cancer. It reveals Esther’s indomitable spirit, her thoughts and fears about death, her goofy sense of humor and, much like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, reminds us that “cancer kids” aren’t these gleaming beacons of Hope and Inspiration for us all; they are kids who happen to have cancer and have to learn to cope with that to the best of their ability. That includes moments of great courage, but it also includes moments of sadness and anger and even boredom and frustration at the physical restrictions of the illness.
In her journal entries, Esther is very adamant about being seen as a complete human being. When the Make-A-Wish Foundation approaches her, she can’t think of anything she would want from them. She writes, “I literally have all I want and that sounds very ‘oh what a cute cancer kid I’ve got watery eyes’ but really it’s just ‘I already own things of interest.’” When she becomes well-known to the nerdfighter community, she worries that what John Green and her other friends say about her makes her sound more exceptional than she thinks she is. She writes, “I feel like I’m fooling you all, because I’m not always amazing, and I’m not always awesome, and I’m not always strong, and I’m not always brave, and you guys should know that, you know? I mean, I’m not always this perfect person. I get pissed…I do stupid things. I get angsty. I cry. I hate my cancer. I judge people. I yell at my parents.” Esther’s humility in these instances not only reminds the reader that she is very much a human being, but also goes further to remind the reader of her self-awareness, humility and wisdom.
Friends of Esther, fans of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and anyone interested in finding more reason to imagine other people complexly will be affected by this book. It will make you laugh and it will make you sob. It will continue to resonate long after you turn the final page. It will remind you to tell the people you love that you love them, because love is the most important part of a life well-lived. Esther believed this deeply, and that, more than anything, is Esther’s legacy.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on January 7, 2014