Set on the Nebraska Plains in 1953, The Round Prairie Wars is an initiation story told from the viewpoint of a nine-year-old girl, Jeb Wilder, whose family lives in a small trailer house and moves every year because of her father's government job. Her mother is schizophrenic, dragging Jeb into a world of shifting realities and vivid hallucinations, of poetry and word games which ironically will help protect Jeb in the long run. Her mother's paranoia directly parallels the free-floating hysteria of the Red Scare.
Jeb is funny and serious, a liar and truth-teller, above all a fighter who must learn how to survive as the perennial outsider, how to stand up to bullies twice her size and adults with half her courage. She and her brother, Sam, construct their own protective fictions, including the fort they dig to fight genuinely dangerous enemies and the magic formula they create to defend their mother from the brutal fate of the mentally ill in the 1950s. Jeb's father fixes what he can, usually a machine, while Sam secretly works on pipe bombs under the aegis of Boy Scout merit badges, and her mother progressively loses contact with everyday reality.
Meanwhile, Round Prairie inexorably moves toward a horrendous incident which disguises small-town bigotry as the purge of potential "Communists" to keep society safe and protect its treasured ideologies. Nonetheless, with the help of a few unlikely friends, Jeb manages to build a life like the people searching the Hebron tornado rubble—from the pieces she can find, however broken and random, but uniquely hers.