The Boundless

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Boundless Book Poster Image
Gripping historical adventure aboard a gigantic train.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers learn about the building and completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The author includes plenty of details about the hard lives of those working to complete the railroad and the dangers it posed, including avalanches and flooding. Readers also get a glimpse of class inequality during this time. 

Positive Messages

Grapples with themes of honesty and loyalty, and how sometimes one comes in conflict with the other. Also offers a very thoughtful look at class and racial discrimination.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Will is a teen who desperately wants adventure and to follow his own dreams, but he also wants to do the right thing. He has to make a tough choice between honesty and loyalty to those who've protected him. His adventures bring out his bravery and selflessness. 


Most of the danger involves jumping moving railroad cars and getting chased by baddies with knives and guns. Some men fall off the train. There are a few sad deaths and a couple gory ones where heads end up on spikes. Some men are shot with guns and arrows in a skirmish. Animals are shown to be shot callously and carelessly and there's a quick glimpse of a cock fight. There are a few near-drownings in a bog, casualties in avalanches, men electrocuted, and a bar fight and some other punches thrown. There's talk of men getting legs blown off while blasting away mountains for the railroad and a mention of a man trampled to death by camels. 


It's clear Will and Maren like each other, but nothing happens beyond hands touching. They both see a prostitute lead a client away in a third class train car and blush. Another couple is seen kissing and Will thinks about Maren's "bare, shapely legs" in her circus costume.


Just a couple handfuls and nothing too strong. "Asses," "feck," "bloody idiot," "hell," "damn," and "damn Redskins." A mention that someone let "obscenities fly."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There's a lot of drinking and smoking on this train and by railroad workers. It's consistent with the time, for sure, but even Will, a minor, partakes in a some brandy and champagne. Will's dad smokes a cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kenneth Oppel​'sThe Boundless is an exciting story targeted at the middle grade set, but it can be enjoyed by readers well into their teens. There's plenty of adventure for all ages aboard this 900-car train and a fair amount of danger as well. It mostly involves jumping moving railroad cars and getting chased by baddies with knives and guns. Expect some deaths, a few sad and a couple gory with heads left on spikes. Readers will learn quite a bit about the time period just after the Canadian Pacific Railroad was built -- an era that included lots of smoking and drinking. Will, a teen, drinks a little, too. Mostly he's a good kid, though, with some tough decisions to make about honesty and loyalty. Language stays pretty mild -- nothing beyond "asses." Read by Nick Podehl in the audiobook version, which the American Library Association named a 2015 Notable Children's Recording.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written by335b00ks February 21, 2019


Not very interesting, no key themes stuck out to me, had a hard time reading, some foul language, not exiting enough, mentions drinking and smoking a lot, an ab... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old February 6, 2018

One of my favorites

Very good instead book I recommend.

What's the story?

After Will and his father, a railroad worker, save a rail baron in an avalanche, Will's father moves swiftly up in the world. In just a few years he's become a prominent member of the Canadian Pacific Railway company. So prominent, he's to help conduct the Boundless -- a massive train of more than 900 cars -- in its first voyage across Canada. The Boundless carries four classes of passengers, loads of freight, a whole circus, and the mysterious funeral car the late rail baron. Will's father and one guard have the only key to the treasures inside the opulent carriage that has a steady electric current running through it for good measure. A number of the train's brakemen are sure the car contains a priceless golden spike. After all their sacrifices building the railroad they think they should have it, and are willing to kill the one guard for the key. When poor Will catches them in the act, he finds the key in the chaos and just manages to escape with his life, barely catching up with the train. Now he's on the caboose, with miles of moving train and vengeful brakemen between him and his father. Luckily he knows someone in the circus cars that may help him, but can he trust them?

Is it any good?

There's so much to love about THE BOUNDLESS, it's hard to know where to begin. Probably at the unbelievable setting of a train more than 900 cars long heading across Canada. Even without evil brakemen chasing Will from caboose to first class, it's so exciting the way author Kenneth Oppel stes up the quirky circus cars, the chaos of colonist class, the Wild West-style bawdiness of third class, the busy mail cars, and even an open-air shooting gallery. Each part of the train is a new discovery, leading to the biggest mystery of all: the rail baron's funeral car. What could be in there?

Oh, and all around there are Sasquatch. And talk of a pretty creepy hag in the muskeg -- watch out. And avalanches and flooding on the tracks. So no, readers will not have a moment's peace to truly enjoy the amazing train they're on, but what a ride.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about class differences of the time. What did Will see moving from the caboose forward to colonist, third, second, and first class cars? Who inhabited each? What hints did you have about the kind of lives they lead off the train?

  • This is clearly an adventure with some history behind it, but there are fantasy elements as well. What drew you to this book? Would you read more by this author? 

  • Talk about Mr. Dorian, the head of the circus. What motivates him the most? What are his dreams for the circus? DoesMaren trust him?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and adventure

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