'Wonder' Author R.J. Palacio Reveals Which Books She's Reading In The Era Of Donald Trump
Ever since Wonder's release in 2012, children and adults alike have been inspired by writer R.J. Palacio's profound tale of self-love, understanding, compassion, and the wonder that lies within us all. The story follows Auggie Pullman, a 10 year old with a rare facial deformity who has been homeschooled his entire life because of his rigorous surgery schedule. As a fifth grader, he enters school for the first time, and he has no idea what to expect. Despite (or perhaps, because of) the trials and tribulations of the year, Auggie exits the fifth grade with a much clearer understanding of the wonder he is. The book, a New York Times bestseller, is now poised to inspire a new wave of children through a movie adaptation, out Nov. 17, starring Jacob Tremblay, Julie Roberts, and Owen Wilson.
The book is a necessary read at all times, but it feels especially pertinent now, in an era when political lines have been split across lines of gender, sexuality, religion, immigration status, race, ethnicity, and more. Every American should strive to grow in compassion, understanding, and empathy, and reading Wonder might just be one step in that process.
R.J. Palacio is not only writing books to change the world — she's reading them too. The author tells Bustle that three books have inspired her resistance throughout her lifetime and, especially, in the last year: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, and The Captain's Verses by Pablo Neruda. Read what she says about these books below:
'Les Misérables' by Victor Hugo
"You can’t go more than fifty pages in Les Miserables without finding a stunning parallel to the struggles we’re facing right now in this country," Palacio says. "It touches on all of it: the rights of women; the education of children; prison reform; class tensions; cultural elitism; predestined poverty; the opacity of ignorance; despotic rulers; the progress of science; the despair in human beings that leads to violence, insurrections and revolutions; the rising of a people. If you want to be reminded about why we fight to raise the quality of life, not only for our own children, but for other people’s children, you should read Les Miserables. It’s not a political book. It destroys all parties equally — monarchists, socialists, republicans —all who fail the ordinary people of the world. The power and the glory, according to Victor Hugo, belongs to those anonymous citizens everywhere who do what they can, when they can, and however they can, to alleviate the suffering of others around them. Countries rise and fall, but ideals don’t, and the soul of mankind is intertwined with the heart of its nations, their ability to care for the weak, the young, the ill, and the poor. “Nations,” writes Hugo, “like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.” Can’t read anymore right now, Mr. Hugo. I’ve got my resistance boots (and pussy hat) on, and am off to the barricades."
'The Diary Of A Young Girl' by Anne Frank
"The second of my books to fuel the resistance is The Diary of Anne Frank," Palacio says. "This book, Anne’s story, which I first read in middle school four decades ago, is the probably the greatest reason I’ve become so outspoken with my political views during the Trump regime — using what little visibility I may have in the form of fans and followers to loudly decry the persecution of minorities, the vilification of religions, and the normalization of hate groups like the KKK and American Nazis.
The Diary of Anne Frank was the first book I ever read as a child that didn’t have a happy ending. Quite the opposite: Good people, who we’ve come to admire, meet horrible, unjust, undeserved, and unimaginable ends. I remember thinking, what would I have done if I had lived in those times? Could I have been an Anne Frank? Would I have helped an Anne Frank? Even at 13, I had enough of a sense of myself to know the answers to those questions. Yes, I could have been an Anne Frank. Anyone, at any time, without the vigilant watchfulness of good people, could be singled out for their differences, scapegoated individually or by the millions. Would I have helped an Anne Frank? Yes. But unless you lived in those days, such assertions are purely hypothetical and facile. Here’s the thing: we are living in those days right now. There are Nazis among us, right now. There are people being targeted, right now. There are thirteen-year old children looking for sanctuary, right now. History is repeating itself, right now. This is the time when good people need to wake up from a state of complacent denial and rise up, rise up, rise up. Resist those who will not help."
'The Captain's Verses' by Pablo Neruda
"The third book in my personal resistance library is The Captain’s Verses by Pablo Neruda, in the excellent translation by Donald D. Walsh," she says. "Although perhaps not as well-known as his Elemental Odes, Neruda’s collection of love poems, originally published anonymously, speak of the personal love between two people against the backdrop of war. What war? The war against injustice. The war for dignity of the downtrodden. The war for racial equality.... To Neruda, the war isn’t about one’s own personal struggle. It’s about taking up the banners for other people’s struggles. I am not just me: I am you, I am they. If you struggle, I struggle.
Neruda’s profound tenderness for the personal dramas of ordinary people is here inextricably bound to his longing for social justice and equality. The love of two people is part of a greater love of people. If who we love, and how we love, aren’t available to every person as a basic human right, then how can anyone enjoy them fully and without a sense of obligation to fight for the right of others to love, too? The resistance, as I see it, is about coming together to overwhelm hate with love, and challenging people to see each other with compassion again. Live and let live. The Resistance is about reminding people that we are, as a whole, only as strong as the weakest among us. If they rise, we all rise. Victor Hugo knew that. Pablo Neruda knew that. As for Anne Frank, we know what she believed: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world!"