Esther Earl, who died of thyroid cancer in 2010 at the age of 16, was an exceptionally bright and talented young woman who inspired many with her hopefulness, generosity, and empathy. On January 28, Dutton will publish This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl, which compiles the teenager’s journals, letters, fiction, sketches, and many family photographs. The volume also contains essays and commentary by friends and family, including excerpts from the chronicle of Esther’s health journey that her parents, Wayne and Lori Earl, posted on the CaringBridge Web site. John Green, who became friends with Esther after meeting her at a Harry Potter convention in 2009, dedicated The Fault in Our Stars to her, and contributes an introduction to the book.
Wayne Earl originally envisioned the book as a straightforward biography of Esther, with whom he made a pact a year before her death. “I told her that if she predeceased me, I was going to write the story of her life,” he said. “I realized afterwards that it would be my way of keeping her alive for family and friends. And I told her that if I passed away first, I wanted her to write my biography, and she agreed. So the book started as a promise.”
Wayne kept his side of the bargain, and penned Esther’s life story, incorporating many of her journal entries and letters, as well as transcripts of her extensive online correspondence and chats, which became her lifeline to friends and peers as she became increasingly ill and homebound. He then sent the completed manuscript to John Green, who asked for the Earls’ permission to show the book to his editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, v-p and publisher of Dutton Children’s Books.
Shaping a Labor of Love
“I knew how important the book was to Wayne and Lori, and how much love had been poured into it,” said Strauss-Gabel, who was instantly drawn to Esther’s own words. “She has an amazing voice, and it was very clear how important writing and communicating were to her. She wrote letters as gifts to those she loved. She knew how crucial it was to take the time to say, ‘I love you – you are important to me.’ Her voice is extraordinary, and what she has to say is worth sharing with the world.” Strauss-Gabel suggested reshaping the book to include more of Esther’s writing.
The editor, who had met Esther briefly when Green introduced the two at a 2010 book signing for Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written with David Levithan), also wanted This Star Won’t Go Out to feature the voices of the close friends (collectively known as “Catitude”) Esther had met online, many of whom she subsequently met in person. The Catitude are hardcover “Nerdfighters,” the online community dedicated to advocating for nerds and celebrating intellectualism, which grew out of the Vlogbrothers videos Green and his brother Hank began making in 2007. Esther was a particularly ardent Nerdfighter with a strong online voice, which will undoubtedly draw John Green’s many fans to her story.
“Over the years I had corresponded with many of Esther’s Catitude friends and had met others, and I came to learn how important Esther’s relationships with these friends were to her, and how extraordinary they are as individuals and as a support network,” Strauss-Gabel recalled. “I knew the book needed to have their voices in the mix, and they immediately stepped up to participate.” The book’s title derives from the nonprofit organization the Earl parents founded to financially assist families of children living with cancer. The phrase “This Star Won’t Go Out,” which also appears on bracelets sold by the foundation as a fundraiser, came to Alexa Lowey, one of Esther’s earliest childhood friends, out of the blue.
Penguin will make a donation to This Star Won’t Go Out foundation when the book is published. “We believe in the really important work the foundation does,” said Strauss-Gabel, “and we are so honored that the Earls entrusted us with Esther’s amazing story.”
Esther’s parents are also thrilled that This Star Will Not Go Out, which has a 100,000-copy first printing, will soon reach readers. “We are proud to share Esther’s life,” said Lori, who noted that “Esther” is the Persian word for “star.” “We want to share Esther Grace’s brightness and grace,” she added. “In her short life, she grew into her name.”
Wayne explained that the dedication (“To all who long to live fully and love deeply no matter the obstacle or length of days”) were the final words that he and Lori wrote for the book. He called it “the perfect description of Esther. She was so engaged in everything that had to do with being alive and loving, and despite the obstacles she encountered, she still kept her brightness and fulfilled her mission to love well. We hope readers are inspired by that and are encouraged never to give up hope.”
This Star Will Not Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl. Dutton, $19.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-525-42636-3