Meet Esther Earl, The Inspiration For ‘The Fault In Our Stars’

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You already have your tix to see “The Fault in Our Stars” this weekend, so we’ve got a bit of trivia for you: How is “The Fault in Our Stars” connected to Harry Potter, The Esther Day Project, and telling people you love them?

Andrew Slack, executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance, knows how all these things are connected.

“The Harry Potter Alliance has inspired millions of fans to take action on improving our world,” he said. “I started the organization with my former colleague in comedy Seth Soulstein and Paul DeGeorge from Harry and the Potters. I said to them, ‘It’s amazing the energy I’m seeing in the Harry Potter fandom — we’ve got wizard rock turning fans into musicians, fanfiction turning fans into writers, podcasts turning fans into broadcasters. But if Harry Potter were real, wouldn’t he also fight for justice?’ Harry starts a student activist group called Dumbledore’s Army, so why couldn’t we get the Harry Potter fanbase to become a Dumbledore’s Army for the real world?” For example, since Harry fought for equality for werewolves and house elves, the HPA fights for equality for all people.

“Esther Earl was a member of the Harry Potter Alliance,” Andrew said. Esther, if you’re not familiar, is the inspiration behind “The Fault in Our Stars.” “She and her sisters devoured the Harry Potter books. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and by the time they knew, it had already spread to her lungs. She grew weaker, and her family moved to Boston where I was living. She was often bound to her bed, and she joined Internet communities like the Harry Potter Alliance and made friendships there. She and her friends formed a group called Cattitude and would Skype at all hours of the night. She didn’t tell them at first she had cancer because she wanted to be treated like a normal teenage girl. She eventually showed them her oxygen mask. At that point, they were very close friends.”

Though she was only a teen, Esther had to face big issues. “In 2009, she was very upset because it was likely she would die, and she would die without making the difference she would have liked to have made,” Andrew explained. “There was a Harry Potter conference going on at Boston called LeakyCon. Her parents were very low on money because of medical expenses, but they wanted Esther to get every experience she could. There she met John Green, one of her favorite people on the Internet and one of her favorite authors.”

John had wanted to write a book about teens with cancer, but hadn’t felt he had an authentic voice. Meeting Esther changed everything. “They formed a connection,” Andrew said. “It was the friendship felt round the world. She was helping to inform all the characters he was creating in his book, which would be ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’ That book came out after Esther’s death, and John has said the one person he really wanted to read this book will never be able to.”

The Make-A-Wish Foundation asked Esther what she wanted, and she asked to meet her friends from Cattitude IRL. She was too sick to go across the country, so Make-a-Wish helped some of the friends come visit her, and they all met at a hotel. “John Green ended up paying for more of Cattitude to come. I was invited and got an opportunity to be with Esther.”

And then John released his video “With Esther.”

+ Watch “With Esther”

In it, he talked about his time at the Make-a-Wish Foundation get-together with Esther and her friends. He wanted to do something for her, and Esther had reminded him that the HPA was in the running for the Chase Bank Community Giving Challenge. Whoever won would get $250,000, so John encouraged people to vote as a way for people to thank Esther for being so awesome. It worked! The HPA came in first place and people were tweeting about Esther all across the globe.

Andrew and Esther got closer, hanging out on each other’s birthdays. “But the clock was against us,” he said. “Her birthday was August 3 and she died at the end of August. Before she died, John said to her, ‘I am turning your birthday into a holiday. It’s going to be called Esther Day. What do you want people to do on it?’ It was a huge opportunity to get someone to do something positive, and she gave the simplest of answers, so reflective of her. She said, ‘I want people to tell their friends and family that they love them.’”

Even people who didn’t personally know Esther can feel her powerful legacy. She has a foundation, This Star Won’t Go Out, and this year a posthumous book of the same name was released. It has her journal and creative writings and includes a foreword by John Green and an essay by Andrew.

“I was with Esther on the first Esther Day,” Andrew said. “We got to say we loved each other. People all over the world, thanks to a video John made, said they loved each other. Esther Day has spread with each year. The movie is coming out, the book has been on the bestseller’s list, and how do we take this and do something for Esther’s living legacy?”

That’s what brings us to the Esther Day Project, which is about informing, preparing and getting people involved with Esther Day. And Andrew has an amazing story to tell.

“This year’s LeakyCon — the place where Esther first met John — will end on Esther Day,” he said. “At the conference, everyone is going to have a postcard and they’re going to write that they love someone in their life. They’re going to address it to that person. We, in a collaboration with LeakyCon, are going to mail those out. We’re going to have house parties all over the world for our members and anyone who wants to, to tell people in their life they love them. We want to change the cultural paradigm on how we think about love and gratitude. John Green always says, ‘Esther taught me that a short life can be a good life.’”

Photo: EstherDay.org

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