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The Arts and Medicine
February 20, 2018

Apprehending Otherness Through Wonder: A Facial Plastic Surgeon’s Review of the Book and Movie

Author Affiliations
  • 1Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, California
JAMA. 2018;319(7):640-642. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.22109

If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa (also known as Yogi Bhajan), 1929-2004

The best-selling 2012 book Wonder1 by author R. J. Palacio (real name Raquel Jaramillo) tells the fictional story of August Pullman (Auggie), a boy born with severe facial differences—“mandibulofacial dysostosis … complicated by a hemifacial microsomia characteristic of oculo-auriculo-vertebral (OAV) spectrum”—who after 10 years and 27 reconstructive surgeries is ready, maybe, to leave the comfort of homeschooling to join the perilous social world of fifth grade. The book is now a holiday season feel-good movie that stays true to Palacio’s core themes that feelings of difference are internal states of mind as much as accidents of outward appearance, and that people like Auggie, who wear their differences on the outside and struggle for acceptance as a result, have everything to teach us about being human. Wonder starts after Auggie’s surgical procedures are complete, but the story addresses many of the issues facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons confront in their work with children with craniofacial abnormalities and their families.