Mother of Quincy Teen Who Inspired Fault In Our Stars Reflects on Film’s Release
Lori Earl doesn’t know if she and her husband will be able to muster up the emotional courage to sit down and watch the film Fault In Our Stars more than twice. “It might be awhile before we put ourselves through it again after that,” said Earl, whose daughter Esther was the inspiration for the book of the same name, and author John Green’s main character, Hazel.
Esther, a North Quincy High School student who died from thyroid cancer in 2010, at the age of 16, had developed a close relationship with Green after they met at a convention in Boston a year prior. Earl said when her daughter passed away, Green helped the family publish a book about the teenager’s life, which included some of Esther’s musings and journal entries. Soon after, Earl’s daughter became the inspiration for the best-selling novel—due to her lust for life and sense of humor—when Green finally decided to write Fault.
As the movie hits theaters this weekend, Earl said the emotion surrounding the event, and the support flowing in from people all across the country, has been inspiring. “The movie is certainly bringing everyone out of the woodwork…we were all a little nervous about watching it in a public setting, but we were in good company,” she said, referencing the premiere they attended in New York City earlier this week.
Boston talked with Earl about the film version of Green’s young adult book, and how it could help spread the message about the resilience and strength that Esther showed as she battled with cancer.
Your daughter met the author of the book at a convention in Boston, and they immediately clicked.
Exactly, in 2009. Esther was a huge fan of John Green already, she had read all of his books and followed his video blogs that he does with his brother. She had just been really, really sick and in the hospital for a month, kind of over the Thanksgiving and Christmas time. She came with her red wig, and her oxygen tank to the convention. John had tried to write a book about his experiences as an intern chaplain at a pediatric cancer hospital, and he never could get the story to work. He noticed Esther, and said ‘hi’ to her, and took a picture with her, and she was at the convention for a couple days. Then they had begun to correspond through email, along with her other friends that she had formed in this community online.
And she became the inspiration for this character.
He liked her…Esther died at the end of August, in 2010, and that’s really when John said, after she died, that he committed himself to writing this story because he felt like he had found his voice in Esther’s voice, and was inspired by her empathy. Then when he was getting close to finishing the book, he contacted us to say, ‘I need to make sure this is OK, and you’re comfortable with the fact that I’m writing about somebody who isn’t your daughter,’ but was impacted by her, and was dedicating the book to her. He asked if that was OK and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh—Esther’s favorite author in the whole wide world.’ Nothing would have been more meaningful to her than to think he was dedicating his book to her. Of course, in those days, we didn’t have any idea there would be a movie and all the things going along with it.
What would her reaction have been to all of this? Knowing about the movie and the book?
She would have been fan-girling over it. She would have been amazed and surprised. She was coming into a little bit of fame with her circles on the Internet, with the Harry Potter Alliance, and a day that was named after her birthday by John Green and his brother, Hank. She handled [the attention] with a lot of grace. That was her middle name too, Grace.
Were you guys contacted at all for the making of the movie?
We share our book about Esther and her journals, and the writings that go along with it, which came out January 28 this year, with the same agent and publisher that John has, so we were aware pretty early on that a movie was going to get made. But we didn’t have any contribution or involvement at all. But when we heard there was a movie there was excitement about it. But the question was, who was going to play Esther? [laughs].
Do you think the person who played the part captured the spirit of your daughter?
We were just in New York on Monday, with our two oldest daughters, and we all loved the movie. You could always critique certain things, but I think the characterizations, the people who played the parts, did such a wonderful job. Shailene [Woodley] did such a wonderful job, playing that role of being a strong female character, and a normal person who just happens to be sick. They did such a good job of portraying the mother.
It must have been pretty emotional.
We were all a little nervous about watching it in a public setting. But we were in good company, because all around us were waves of laughter—and sometimes sobbing—and waves [of emotion]. A lot of the audience was made up of studio people, because it being the premiere. So it was just a wonderful way to get to watch the movie. I went into watching the movie, when the story started, nervous that it would be just too close and I wouldn’t be able to manage my emotions. But the same thing happened as when I read the book: I saw all of these parallels of Esther, but after awhile I was watching an amazing movie about a girl that falls in love with a boy.
What did you think of the love story?
Esther never got to have that romance. She talks about [in her journals] wanting to kiss a boy, and never getting to do that. So there is a little part of it that feels like this is the romance she didn’t get to have, but you know, we tried to give her everything we could. We weren’t able to give her a boyfriend [laughs]. But my husband says they were lined up!
Your husband was probably making sure to keep them back.
Ya [laughs]. But she had some very good male energy and friends in her group that she was connected to online.
The book probably helped get the word out, but how do you think the film will help with the work you guys are doing?
In the movie, the mother makes a statement and says, ‘you of all people should know it’s possible to live with pain,’ and that’s when you have somebody who is sick, especially a child, you live with a lot of pain. So being involved in this foundation, I am very aware of other people’s pain, and what it’s like to go through grief. To be able to give back through the foundation—we started in 2011—it’s very grassroots, and very small, we have been able to give away $1500,000 to families with kids with cancer. A lot of that money has come from teens and college kids, and young people who just care about making a difference in the world. I feel like I’m a conduit for other people who are decent, kind human beings.
So it will help.
I think so, and I hope so. Pediatric cancer has been really low on the radar for research money and awareness. I think that what happens with pediatric cancer is most groups that get started are by people like us that felt a need to help somebody else out. This month, June, is the one-year anniversary of a new coalition called “Coalition against Childhood Cancer,” and that is exactly what that is: 60 organizations that have joined together to raise awareness about the need for funding for pediatric cancer research. If we can fund research for childhood cancer, you make a difference for someone who is going to live for many more years. I think that this movie [will help].
How many times do you think you will watch the movie?
I don’t know. I read the book three times, if you count the manuscript. But we are taking our two boys this weekend. They are excited to see it. We are at least seeing it twice. It might be a while before we put ourselves through it again after that.