The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
Inspired by Esther Earl, a friend of TFIOS author John Green who died of thyroid cancer at age 16.
Left: Shailene Woodley as Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars movie. Right: Real-life teenager Esther Earl, who died of thyroid cancer in 2010 and was a significant part of author John Green's inspiration for Hazel.

Questioning the Story:

Is The Fault in Our Stars based on a true story?

Buy T-Shirt. In addition to helping break pre-sale movie ticket records for a romantic drama, fans have created The Fault in Our Stars t-shirts and artwork like the tee above.
The Fault in Our Stars book and subsequent movie were inspired in part by Esther Earl (pictured above, right). "So much of the story was inspired by her and my friendship with her and my affection for her family and friends," says author John Green, "but I didn't take very many specific things (except for superficial stuff like the oxygen and whatnot)." Esther died of thyroid cancer on August 25, 2010 at age sixteen.

"What inspired me most," says Green, "was Esther's unusual mix of teenagerness and empathy: She was a very outwardly focused person, very conscious of and attentive to her friends and family. But she was also silly and funny and totally normal. ... All that said, I really don't want to seem to be appropriating Esther's story, which belongs to her and to her family and not to me. Hazel is a fictional character, and she is in many important ways very different from the person Esther was."

Author John Green also drew inspiration for the book from his time spent working as a student chaplain at a children's hospital.

Who was Esther Earl?

The Fault in Our Stars true story reveals that in addition to being part of the inspiration for the movie's character Hazel (Shailene Woodley), Esther, who was born on August 3, 1994 in Beverly, Massachusetts, was diagnosed with cancer at age twelve and became an internet celebrity as she blogged and posted YouTube videos about her life and the disease. See Esther Earl's YouTube Channel. On August 25, 2010 at age sixteen, Esther Earl succumbed to thyroid cancer.

Like Hazel (Shailene Woodley) in the movie, Esther Earl, who was a Nerdfighter and Harry Potter fan, also battled thyroid cancer.

How did Esther Earl meet author John Green?

The Fault in Our Stars author, John Green, met Esther Earl at a Harry Potter conference in 2009. "My brother sings songs about Harry Potter," says Green, "and they're very popular—he attends a lot of these conferences, and I went to one in Boston. So I went to this concert at the conference; there's a lot of dancing going on. I don't dance, and neither did she, so we ended up talking in the back of the room and became friends."

Left: Author John Green (right) with Esther Earl (center) and her sister (left). Right: John and Esther spend time together shortly before her death in 2010 (they were told to make funny faces but John apparently didn't get the memo).

Did Esther Earl know that she was part of the inspiration for Hazel?

No. Author John Green explained that the book did not feature a character named Hazel with thyroid cancer when Esther died. "It was a vastly different story," says Green, who was in the process of writing the book at the time. He says that Esther never saw any of the book before she died.

How much of the Hazel character is based on Esther Earl?

As author John Green stated, he did not want to retell Esther's story, which he feels belongs to Esther and her family. Instead, he created the fictional character of Hazel (Shailene Woodley). Their most apparent similarities are mostly the superficial things, like the oxygen tank and the form of cancer (thyroid). Other similarities include their outwardly focused personalities, their closeness to their friends and family, and their ability to be silly and funny, yet also totally normal. Both the movie's Augustus Waters character and Hazel's romance with him are fiction.

Actress Shailene Woodley (left), who portrays Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars movie, and Esther Earl (right), the real-life inspiration for the character.

What was The Fault in Our Stars book about before the author made it a story about two kids with cancer?

Prior to the real-life death of John Green's friend Esther Earl, his story bared little resemblance to what it became. The original concept was drawn more from his earlier work as a student chaplain at a children's hospital than from his time spent with Esther. "It was about like a dozen kids with cancer who created a club called the Dead Person's Society in a cave (ridiculous) near the children's hospital (doubly ridiculous)," says Green, "and they'd sneak out of the hospital together and visit the cave and convene the DPS (triply ridiculous).

It was basically a very flimsy, high-concept way of allowing me to think through my own thoughts and angers about death and suffering and so on. It was not good."

From left to right: author John Green and actors Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, and Shailene Woodley.

How did author John Green deal with his friend Esther's death?

After Esther succumbed to thyroid cancer in August of 2010, Green turned to writing to deal with his feelings. "I just really liked Esther," says Green. "That was maybe the biggest thing. I really liked her, and I was really pissed off after she died, and I had to write my way through it, because I was desperately looking for some hope in it. (I am still pretty pissed off about it, for the record.)"

Esther Earl (right) with her siblings and parents, Wayne and Lori, in 2010.
Could author John Green have written The Fault in Our Stars without having known Esther Earl?

No. "...I do think knowing and caring about Esther was probably the most important thing in terms of thinking about the mindsets and emotional realities of chronic illness," says Green. "I also talked a lot to families of people with cancer and I read a lot of books about cancer, which were extremely helpful. But if I hadn't known Esther, I never would have written The Fault in Our Stars. I might've eventually finished a book about adolescent illness of some kind, but it wouldn't have been this one."

Esther Earl Videos and The Fault in Our Stars Trailer

Further explore the true story behind The Fault in Our Stars by watching the Esther Earl videos below. In the first video, Esther offers an emotional and honest take on life and living with cancer. Lastly, check out the movie's trailer.

 Esther Earl Shares Her Feelings About Cancer and Life

Shortly before her death in August of 2010, Esther Earl recorded this video in which she shares her honest feelings about life, cancer, and her upcoming scans, which will determine if her condition is improving or has gotten worse. She mentions The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, saying that she doesn't always deserve the praise such people give her. "I'm not always strong and I'm not always brave, and you guys should know that," says Esther.

 Esther's Family, Friends and Author John Green Reflect on Esther

Author John Green, along with Esther Earl's family and friends, reflects on Esther's life. The video was put together to promote the family's book, This Star Won't Go Out, which is a collection of the journals, fiction, letters, and sketches of the late Esther Grace Earl, who passed away at the age of sixteen.

 The Fault in Our Stars Trailer

The film is loosely inspired by teenager Esther Earl, an internet celebrity who gained fame after blogging and posting videos about her life with cancer. The Fault in Our Stars movie stars Shailene Woodley as Hazel, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who meets and falls in love with Augustus Waters, a fellow teen who is also battling the disease.

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