by Ryan Roschke)
By now, we're all familiar with Hazel Grace, the beautiful, bold, cancer-stricken teenager from John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. What you might not know, though, is that her story is inspired by the true story of Esther Grace Earl, an equally bright girl and close friend of John Green who lost her battle to cancer at age 16. John Green has made it very clear that he's not telling Esther's story, but it's not hard to see how much of Esther shines through in Hazel. We're introducing you to the amazing young life force that led to the incredible young-adult novel. Keep scrolling for a glimpse at the real-life Hazel.
According to This Star Won't Go Out (the organization founded in Esther's memory), Esther Grace Earl was a "spunky, energetic, creative kid, full of caring for her brothers, and a close companion to her sisters. Known for her blue eyes, dimpled smile, and fly-away blond hair, she loved monkey bars and climbing ropes, rescuing abandoned Saudi cats, skiing the Alps, impromptu photo shoots with her sisters, designing web pages, teaching herself to play the piano and making her family laugh with joy."
Esther was diagnosed with metastasized papillary thyroid cancer when she was 12 years old and fought valiantly until August 2010. She passed away just after her 16th birthday.
Her Connection To John Green
In the introduction to This Star Won't Go Out, the book that tells Esther's story, John Green talks about meeting Esther at LeakyCon in 2009 and how their friendship bloomed from there. He writes of how Esther was a huge fan of his from the start, and he, in turn, became a huge fan of hers.
The Hazel Grace Connection
You can see a lot of Esther Grace Earl in John Green's fictional teen Hazel Grace Lancaster. They both wear the nasal cannula that connects them to an oxygen tank, sure, but it goes deeper than that.
John Green himself wrote about Esther in a Tumblr post, saying, "She was young, blessed with a genuinely sophomoric sense of humor, silly, empathetic . . . her charm and snark inspired the novel." It's clear that Hazel's sardonic wit comes right from Esther.
He also said, "But this much was true, at least as far as I knew her: She was generous, and loving, and full of grace — which was, after all, her middle name." It makes all the more adorable that Hazel has the name Grace, too.
Even though John Green said his novel is inspired by Esther, he's always been clear: his story is not hers. In the same Tumblr post we mentioned above, he said, "I don't want people conflating Esther with Hazel (they're very different), and it's extremely important to me that I not claim to be telling Esther's story. Esther's story belongs to Esther and to her family, and they will tell it brilliantly and beautifully."
That's why the real story, filled with letters and thoughts from Esther herself, has been published as This Star Won't Go Out, and we're sure it's just as heartbreaking as, if not more than, The Fault in Our Stars.
Perhaps the most incredible part of Esther's story is she sent a letter to her future self (and her parents) a year after her death, using a website called FutureMe.org. Although the full letter has been taken down, you can read a moving excerpt below:
"This is a letter for the future esther. future me, i hope you're doing better than present me. i hope that if you still have your cancer, at least it will be gone enough for you to be off oxygen . . . remember how you always wanted to do something for the world? remember that? if you haven't done something amazing, don't forget to try. the worst that can happen is you fail, and then you can just try again until you succeed. those words don't work on me now, but just try to remember them . . . just be happy. and if you can’t be happy, do things that make you happy. or do nothing with people that make you happy."