John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was in many ways inspired by a real girl named Esther Grace Earl, a friend of John’s who passed away in 2010 at age 16, but it would be wrong to say it is her story.
In fact, Esther has told her own story in a diary/memoir published this year called This Star Won’t Go Out. She was a bright, plucky young girl who befriended novelist and Youtuber John Green at LeakyCon, a Boston Harry Potter convention. He had been working on a novel about teens with cancer for sometime, but he couldn’t quite make it work. Although Green has been adamant that he didn’t ever want to turn his friendship with Esther into a “research” mission, he Esther did teach him what it’s really like to be a teenager with cancer. Although they suffer from the same type of cancer, the details of Esther’s life are not the details of Hazel’s. Hazel Grace is not Esther Grace, but Esther’s humanity and pluck and dignity shines through in the character.
Green wrote about Esther in the The Fault in Our Stars Q & A section of his website:
Esther did not see any of the book before she died. (It did not feature a character named Hazel with thyroid cancer when she died, either. It was a vastly different story.)
So much of the story was inspired by her and my friendship with her and my affection for her family and friends, but I didn’t take very many specific things (except for superficial stuff like the oxygen and whatnot).
What inspired me most was Esther’s unusual mix of teenagerness and empathy: She was a very outwardly focused person, very conscious of and attentive to her friends and family. But she was also silly and funny and totally normal. And in our conversations about heroism and strength or whatever, she was very conscious of cliches (many of which I threw at her) but mostly unconvinced by them.
I just really liked Esther. That was maybe the biggest thing. I really liked her, and I was really pissed off after she died, and I had to write my way through it, because I was desperately looking for some hope in it. (I am still pretty pissed off about it, for the record.)
All that said, I really don’t want to seem to be appropriating Esther’s story, which belongs to her and to her family and not to me. Hazel is a fictional character, and she is in many important ways very different from the person Esther was.
If you have not read This Star Won’t Go Out, you’re really missing out. Esther was an amazing writer who expresses exactly what it’s like to face mortality when you’re still just learning how to live. CLICK HERE to visit Esther’s YouTube channel. CLICK HERE to visit the This Star Won’t Go Out cancer charity her family founded in her memory.
The Fault in Our Stars movie staring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort premieres June 6 in the U.S.