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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
The Round Prairie Wars by Aden Ross is a mid-century historical fiction novel set in Nebraska, where siblings Jeb and Sam Wilder navigate a frequently nomadic existence through imaginative play. The Wilders park their trailer in Round Prairie, a rural community of staunch religion and fears of communism. Against the backdrop of McCarthy-era paranoia, Jeb's inquisitive nature leads her on a journey of discovery, unearthing secrets, confronting bullies, winning spelling bees, and contemplating the overall state of America. Jeb's ailing mother and the political climate that has a catastrophic impact on people close to Jeb are central, especially as she finds herself on a special kind of blacklist. Death haunts the Wilders' past, but Jeb's strong-willed nature and independence portray a determined spirit who isn't afraid to stand her ground, even in the face of hysteria.
There is no excuse for anyone to pass up a book where a youngster dabbles in chemistry experiments, using marble contest winnings to fund making explosives. In this regard, and as much as I love the inquisitive Jeb, Sam Wilder is my favorite character in The Round Prairie Wars by Aden Ross. I believe this is the first time that I felt like mental health issues were addressed authentically. Mama is given a compassionate touch in how Ross writes her and her backstory, as well as the mostly tender way she is viewed by her family. She has her own arc, and it is a very good one. Round Prairie has become almost a character unto itself, a stark landscape of storms and tornadoes rivaled only by the often terrifyingly fervent beliefs of its residents. We watch Jeb grow through different grades while the town almost recedes in opposition to her rise. While the setting is historical, the novel is definitely literary fiction and absolutely worth reading. Very highly recommended.