Monday, March 24, 2014

This STAR won't go out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

Esther Grace Earl was a vibrant teenager, with her entire life before her; a life a many possibilities. One of those possibilities Esther thought, might involve becoming a writer someday and to that end she kept a diary. From these diaries and from those who knew her comes this beautiful and deeply touching book that is part memoir/part biography about a young girl whose life inspired young adult author, John Green to finally complete a book he had been working on prior to meeting Esther. That novel was the immensely popular, The Fault In Our Stars.

Green met Esther at a Harry Potter convention, LeakyCon in Boston in 2009. They were both Potter fans obviously, but Esther was also a fan of Green's novels. Post-LeakyCon, they continued to talk via Skype and while Green knew Esther was ill with cancer, the internet allowed Esther to have a friendship with Green and others that was not defined by her cancer and her illness. To her internet friends, she was simply Esther. Compassionate, funny and intelligent. Esther became one of Green's many vlog followers (named nerdfighters). As Esther's illness progressed, her "Internet" friends, including Green, soon discovered that this young woman was indeed very ill and was dying. This came about through a Skype chat group which collectively called itself Catitude. As Esther's health began to decline she was able to meet some members of Catitude as well as John Green in a sort of "reverse Wish". In his foreword to this book, Green writes that we often place the terminally ill on a pedestal, claiming for them a uniqueness that has its basis in their illness. But Green felt that Esther was special simply because she was Esther and not because she had terminal cancer.

 Esther was born in 1994 in Beverly, MA. She was the middle child in a family of five children, a spunky girl with wild hair. In 2006, at the age of twelve, Esther, who was living in France with her family,  had been feeling unwell for some time. A persistent cough, shortness of breath and pain in her chest forced her to seek medical help and she and her family were stunned to learn that she had thyroid cancer. Although this cancer usually has a very good survival rate, Esther's cancer was different; she had metastatic papillary thyroid cancer. This meant that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in her neck and lungs. Esther had her thyroid and some lymph nodes removed and underwent radiation therapy. The prognosis was not promising. In 2008, Esther took a turn for the worse, and she and her family decided to try two new experimental therapies.  The experimental drugs stymied the cancer for a period of time allowing Esther and her family a short reprieve. Esther's condition slowly began to deteriorate and during the summer of 2010 she developed kidney failure. She passed away with her family at her bedside on August 25, 2010.

This Star Won't Go Out is a compilation of Esther's diary entries, miscellaneous writings, poetry and drawings. The book also includes a foreward by John Green, entries written by her online group who called themselves Catitude and Lori, Wayne and Esther's entries from Caringbridge a website that helps families with seriously ill children.

Besides being a book about one person's journey through a difficult circumstance in life, This Star Won't Go Out is also a magnificent example of faith in God; Esther by her own admission stated she "was not close to God. I didn't want to deal with Him. I liked enjoying the material things that don't matter...But one day I realized, without God, nothing maters. So, I asked Him into my heart. Look, I don't understand anything, basically, about God except He loves me, He made me, without Him I'm lost." But yet after becoming sick, she really did come to know God in a way she probably wasn't even aware of just how much she really knew Him.

This deeply moving tribute to Esther Earl is well organized, drawing from many sources, chronicling Esther's life and giving those of us who did not have the privilege of knowing Esther, a very good sense of who she really was. The pink pages are Esther's Caringbridge pages which can be found online, the cream pages are her blog and diary entries, while the light green pages are friends and family writing about her.  Be prepared to cry and laugh through Esther's difficult journey. I was deeply touched by this book, because Esther's life proves that one doesn't have to be exceptionally beautiful (although she was very pretty) or smart or talented to make a difference in this world. One simply has to be true to oneself. Esther Earl did all of that as This Star Won't Go Out demonstrates.

My only criticism is that the entries by numerous Catitude members overwhelms the last part of the book, detracting from the message that Esther lives on in the work her foundation, This Star Won't Go Out does to help families struggling with cancer. Unless readers are a part of Catitude, they will probably find themselves skimming these entries.

You can watch the videos that Esther Earl made on her youtube channel. Esther's Caringbridge page is still live and you can read about her story, the journal her parents posted online and sign the guest book on her page. Esther Earl is a star whose light will never go out. After Esther's death, her parents, Wayne and Lori founded a nonprofit organization, This Star Won't Go Out which aids families in crisis with a seriously ill child suffering from cancer. Please take the time to check out their website and if you are a young person looking for a good cause, this might just be one to consider helping out. Both this organization and the book by the same name,  This Star Won't Go Out is one of many ways Esther will live on in the hearts of those who loved and knew her, and those of us who wished we had.

DFTBA today in memory of Esther Earl. :)

Book Detail:
This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl
New York: Dutton Books      2014
431 pp.

No comments: