I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I did not know much about Esther Grace Earl when I began reading her diaries — which seemed a tad voyeuristic on my part. This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Earl (with her parents Lori and Wayne Earl) collects Esther’s musings and drawings, which span her terminal illness. These entries are supplemented by blogs, letters, and newsletters written both before and after her death by her family and friends. Author John Green, who met Esther through the Nerdfighter fan community, introduces her self-proclaimed “story about a girl that went through a life changing experience known as Thyroid Cancer.”
For me, a huge fan of The Fault in Our Stars (which is dedicated to Esther), this introduction added a layering and contextualization to Green’s famous novel but, more importantly, provided a poignant and heartfelt memorial to his friend. Green clearly separates his IRL (in real life) relationship with Esther from his fictional character Hazel Grace — Esther is not Hazel. Her writings establish Esther as distinctly her own person, not some casualty of the “bullshitty conventions of the cancer kid genre,” as Green phrases it in The Fault in Our Stars.
In her words Esther comes across as a kind, thoughtful person, and it’s clear from the friendships she cultivated that she was welcoming, loving, and hopeful. But she did have moments of uncertainty and fear, which add a touch of existentialism to her journal entries as Esther struggles with the implications of her illness. Esther, whose name means “star,” passed away not long after her sixteenth birthday, but not without leaving a legacy for those who loved her and knew her — whether they were friends, part of the Nerdfighter and Harry Potter communities, or those inspired by her story.
Perhaps memorials, like funerals, are for the living. This compilation of Esther’s thoughts and creative endeavors both serves as a testament to the lives she touched and provides a glimpse into the world of a normal teenage girl who loved clothes, makeup, books, her friends — and who also happened to have cancer. The title This Star Won’t Go Out references the expanse of Esther’s influence and serves as a memorial to her energy and spirit. Despite the melancholy nature of the material, it is ultimately a hopeful read about the infinite love among friends and family which bridges the divides between health and sickness, hope and fear, and life and death.