THE BOUNDLESS by Kenneth Oppel

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Will Everett drove the final gold spike into the railroad that spanned the continent.  He had merely been trying to visit his father at the work site, but the railway owner, Mr. Van Horne, took a liking to him on the trip up.  But moments later, an avalanche knocks the workers and businessmen off their feet and a vicious sasquatch attacks!  In the confusion, one of the railway workers attempts to steal the gold spike.  Will stops him, and he and his father help Mr. Van Horne to safety.  In gratitude, Mr. Van Horne invites Will’s father into his biggest venture yet: his dream of an eleven kilometer long train called “The Boundless.”  In all the excitement, Will almost forgets that the circus girl stole his sasquatch tooth. . . .

Years later, Will and his father board “The Boundless” for its maiden voyage across the nation, carrying the funeral car with Mr. Van Horne’s body–and the gold railroad spike.  While his father engineers the train at the front, Will travels in first class.  But he soon discovers the presence of some familiar faces.  The first is the circus girl who stole his sasquatch tooth.  The second is the same disgruntled brakeman who tried to steal the gold spike on the day of the avalanche, who Will observes murdering a train guard to steal the funeral car key.  With the brakeman and his cronies after him, Will takes refuge with the circus and in disguise begins the long and difficult adventure to the front of the train to warn his father of the danger.  But the circus owner, Mr. Dorian, may have an agenda of his own.

This novel is jam-packed with thought-provoking thematic material–from a complicated and nuanced class struggle to coming to grips with mortality to destiny and self-fulfilling prophecies to father-son conflicts over identity and dreams for the future.  I would not be surprised to see this on Newbery short lists.  On top of the deep thoughts, though, it is an exciting story.  The avalanche adventure hooks you early, and the intensity of murder and mystery continues through the entire book.  There is a lot going on, but it is not difficult to follow.  I enjoyed it and would recommend it to middle grade readers who like alternate histories, light fantasy, and thought-provoking coming-of-age fiction.

If you liked The Boundless, you might like Dreamwood by Heather Mackey, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, or Savvy by Ingrid Law.

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