So, I kind of had a lot to do today. I’m in the midst of starting a business, and my office has been completely overrun by
junk stuff that needs to be sorted for an upcoming garage sale, and I have several writing projects in the air that have been grossly neglected…not to mention I haven’t gotten my dad a Father’s Day card yet. (Yikes. Bad daughter confession!) Over breakfast this morning, I whined to my husband about all that needed accomplishing today.
And then I picked up This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl (and her parents, Wayne and Lori Earl), and well… let’s just say my priorities shifted.
Esther Grace Earl is, as many of you may know, the remarkable young woman who was not only one of the first Nerdfighters, a popular blogger and vlogger, a writer in her own right, and a personal friend to author John Green; she was also a teen living with cancer, whose story ultimately inspired Green as he wrote The Fault in Our Stars. Esther was 16 when she passed away in 2010, but her vibrant, all-too-short life continues to inspire thousands. There is even a holiday celebrated in Nerdfighterdom dedicated to her and her life’s ambition to love people well and deeply: Esther Day, which is celebrated on her birthday, August 3rd.
Those who’ve lived or even just dabbled in Nerdfighteria are probably familiar with Esther to some degree. John Green talks about her frequently, especially recently with all of the publicity around the TFiOS movie. In January, a book featuring Esther’s diary entries, blogs, drawings, and letters, along with reflections and stories from her friends and family, was published by Dutton, John Green’s publisher. This Star Won’t Go Out naturally received a lot of buzz in Nerdfighterdom, but the publishing world in general was pretty excited about it, too. I worked for Penguin Random House at the time, which is the parent company to Dutton, and was thrilled to see the activity around the book. Not just because I am a Nerdfighter who is always eager to celebrate all things YA, but also because this excitement was over a teenage girl. Yes, she was a teenage girl with cancer, which makes her story tragically appealing to many–especially sympathetic and curious adults in the book biz. (Let’s face it: people who work in the book business are all about The Story, and a 16-year-old who died of a rare cancer and inspired the mega-bestselling The Fault in Our Stars is a pretty ensnaring Story.) But my colleagues weren’t necessarily buzzing about This Star Won’t Go Out just because it was a sad story that inspired a bestseller. Esther’s story was so much more than a sad Cancer Story because Esther was more than Cancer. She was a lively, intelligent, funny, vivacious girl who desperately wanted to make a difference in the world. Even before the book came out, people were talking about that Esther. Not Cancer Esther. Not Sad Story Esther. They were talking about the teenager who cracked fart jokes online, yet also had the self-awareness to send a letter to her future self to her parents’ email address since she might not be alive in a few years’ time.
Suffice it to say, This Star Won’t Go Out is everything that I suspect Esther herself was. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing her IRL, but the book, to me, didn’t feel like a book so much as it felt like a life. I felt welcomed into its pages, her story, her thoughts, her humor. It is charming and disarming; complicated and unflinchingly honest; surprising and occasionally brutal. It is life–Esther’s life–and it is real and beautiful and painful.
So much stood out to me in its pages. Esther was wise beyond her years, as well as delightfully teenager-y. She takes courage in her faith on one page and admits to “ignoring God” a few pages later. She longs to have a real and lasting impact on the world, and yet also longs to kiss a boy. “Sounds dumb,” she says, “but I want to like someone and someone to like me. Eesh I sound like a 2nd grader. Whatever.” (p 165) Her desire for life in all its forms–from the mature and complex longing to change the world, to the innocent and universal desire for romantic connection–is buoyant and tangible on each page. She was–is–completely captivating.
Esther Day is still a few months away, but I can’t help but feel that her words and legacy can–and should–be realized every day. I am grateful to Wayne and Lori Earl, and the Dutton team, for sharing Esther’s words and life with the world. I am also glad that I ignored my to-do list today and instead spent time getting to know someone so remarkable; because getting to know Esther, even just a little, made me happy. And, as Esther says,
Just be happy, and if you can’t be happy, do things that make you happy. Or do nothing with the people that make you happy.”
Support the This Star Won’t Go Out foundation, which offers financial assistance to families of children with cancer: www.tswgo.org
Visit Esther’s YouTube here.
Buy This Star Won’t Go Out at YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE! Or online, here.