Gwena was the girl whose dark skin marked her like Cain in her high-yellow family; the girl he grew up with sneaking out to Bad Brains concerts, stole away with in abandoned buildings, crashed costume parties with, and went on graffiti bombing runs with; the girl he pined for, and when she disappeared she became the personification of his failure as a painter.
Gwena’s parents basked in the inner circle of Washington, D.C.’s prestigious, unapologetically black Howard University, while the unnamed narrator of Broken Wonder’s parents worked the schools’ grounds and facilities. Her place of near-white privilege was tangential but often intangible to his world of dark-skinned underclass. But neither truly belonged to the worlds of have-everythings and never-will-haves to which they were born, so they inhabited their own—a dreamlike realm of myth and memory filled with Vodun gods,Venetian-masked revelers, and an old plantation house. But something happened to Gwena the day she defied her domineering grandmother and dismantled family fictions, something she never told anyone, even her friend. That was the day she disappeared. Twelve years later, she returns as a rising star. The terrible secret she keeps manifests through the narrator’s unintended returns to their “imaginary” world ever-more disturbing.
Broken Wonder is a literary fiction novel set in late-1990s Washington, D.C. in the wake of the 1968 riots and Reagan’s America.