Esther Earl was a girl who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of 12. After several complications, she died at the age of 16. Despite her young age, she lived a full loving life with her family and friends and was able to touch the lives of several people from all over the United States thanks to the Internet. In return, her friends and family decided to make Esther’s dream come true: to become an author. Penguin books decided to publish a collection of her journals along with excerpts from friends and family in a compilation known as This Star Won’t Go Out. By publishing the book, Esther’s story becomes one shared with all of us. And boy, she was much more than just “a girl with cancer”.
This book is Esther’s story despite the fact that she didn’t know that she was writing it. The book starts with a wonderful introduction by best-selling novelist John Green, who was a good friend to Esther in the last year of her life. He speaks to his resentment of the term “Internet friend” and the connotations that follow the term. By calling it an “Internet friendship”, there is a diminutive quality that is smacked onto the surface of the relationship. She is ‘just’ my Internet friend.
To Esther, they were never ‘just her Internet friends’. They were her friends whom she grew to love and care about and enjoyed spending time with. Due to her condition, Esther spent a lot of time in bed or on a couch. It was extremely difficult to go out and do what regular teenagers do. She couldn’t go to the mall or to a movie on a whim. There was a lot of preparation that had to go into a venture in the outside world. Not to mention she needed a family member with her almost all the time to help with her oxygen or just in case. This made it very difficult for her to do regular teenage girl things. Except for using the Internet.
The Internet brought her friends to her in a way that made it easy for her to hang out. She was able to have Skype chats and messaging chat rooms with the friends she made on Harry Potter fandom sites and Nerdfighteria (the online community started by the vlogbrothers – google it). On the Internet, Esther wasn’t the “cancer girl”. Her friends didn’t even know until several months into their friendships. She was just another girl who happened to have a lot in common with these people, who was smart, funny, empathetic, and most of all a joy to have around. The Internet gave Esther a chance to not be lonely due to her circumstances. It allowed her to meet and make friends that continue to love her even after her passing. The Internet gave her the legs and transportation she needed to do the thing every teenage girl needs – have friends.
The true testament to Esther’s character is what she asked Make-A-Wish to do for her. Usually people who qualify for the Make-A-Wish Foundation ask for a paid vacation to somewhere exotic (usually Disney World), a chance to meet their favourite athlete/celebrity/hero, something that every kid wants to do. Esther chose to be with her friends – her friends that she met on the Internet and spread across the States. Make-A-Wish flew out a bunch of her friends to Boston to stay at a hotel and enjoy a fun nerdy weekend together with an appearance by John Green. The most important thing to Esther wasn’t to see the world or meet her favourite actor; it was to spend as much time as she could with the people she loves and cares about. She was aware of how limited her time was so she wanted to make sure that her short life was full of love and nurturing. She is proof that a short life can also be a full life.
I wish I could’ve met Esther, or even better been her friend. Truthfully I wasn’t even aware of her existence until about a year after her death, but it was a pleasure to read her journals and about her life. It was a pleasure to read about a young girl who valued the company of the people she loved and who loved her. She was more than just a nerdfighter, a girl with cancer, a girl who squealed with love at Wizard Rock concerts, a girl who loved Harry Potter, a girl who happened to have been the middle child of 5. She was – in fact, she IS – a girl who wanted to spread the notion that you aren’t alone in the world, even when you’re confined to your bed or couch. She is a girl who believed in the power of love – not just romantic love: the love of parents, the love of siblings, the love of friends, and the love of those who you reach out to.