Book Review: The Boxcar Baby by J.L. Mulvihill

“Sighing, I put my head on my knees and watch an ant crawl up the tree limb, so small and insignificant, and all alone. I’m glad I’m not an ant, though sometimes I feel like one.”

With the main heroine being the adventure taking Boxcar Baby herself, J.L. Mulvihill’s The Boxcar Baby follows AB’Gale as she desperately seeks to find her papa and set things back in order. When her papa doesn’t return home, AB’Gale takes it upon herself to discover his whereabouts before she and her family lose their home and way of life. But after discovering some bits of information and unveiling too many dangerous secrets, AB’Gale finds herself on an epic and treacherous quest to save her family and herself before she’s captured again. An exhilarating and wild read, Mulvihill’s opener to the Steel Roots series will have readers grasping for more!

Title: The Boxcar Baby (Steel Roots #1)
Author: J.L. Mulvihill
Goodreads: Link!

Age Group & Genre(s): Dystopia, Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult
Point of View: First Person
Pace: Fast-paced

Publisher: Seventh Star Press, LLC
Publication Date: 2013
Format: eBook; ARC
Pages: 274

The Box Car Baby introduces the character of AB’Gale Steel who was born in a boxcar on a train bound for Georgia, according to what her papa told her. Bishop Steel, a mechanical engineer for the Southern Railroad, found his adopted daughter snuggled in a basket of cotton on an otherwise empty boxcar in the train yard. When no one came around to claim the baby, Bishop Steel, rather than relinquish the child to the State only to end up at the Workhouse someday, smuggled her home to raise as his own. The name on the boxcar he found her in read, A B Gale Logs, and so he named the baby AB’Gale.

But if the mystery of who her real parents are isn’t enough for fifteen-year -old AB’Gale, Papa Bishop goes missing. Worried for her family and afraid of having to spend her life at the Workhouse, AB’Gale goes into town to see if anyone’s seen her papa, only to find a deeper mystery. At the train station no one seems to know who her papa is even though he’s worked for the Southern Railroad for thirty years.

An encounter with a strange Hobo-man, who claims to know her father, results in the acquisition of a leather eye-glass tube that he says belongs to her papa. Before AB’Gale can question him further the man runs away. When she gets home, she finds the Crushers taking her grandma off to the Oldies-home, so she hides until they are gone.

AB’Gale finds that the leather tube contains a map of the United States, with markers made by various towns across the country. By each marker is a word or a name written in her papa’s handwriting.

Alone, and with only the clues of the map to go by, AB’Gale has no choice but to set out on her own to find her Papa.

Source: Goodreads


I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review; thank you for the opportunity to read and review this novel. This in no way sways my review or opinion of the novel.

Look at that…I have OFFICIALLY participated in my first book tour; how exciting is that?! Firstly, thank you Tomorrow Comes Media for allowing me the privilege of participating in this book tour. Secondly, thank you J.L. Mulvihill for writing an incredible series and giving so many of us the opportunity to partake in this book tour through the creation of your works.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a steampunk novel, so it took some getting used to first. However, Mulvihill did a great job with that by providing glorious descriptions of the world and those who inhabit it. Though a little overly descriptive at times and with some minor grammatical errors, Mulvihill’s steampunk adventure is a tremendous read that grabs your attention from start to end.

CONTENT & TRIGGER WARNING: This book covers sexual harassment, mental and physical abuse, homelessness, and kidnapping.


Wonderfully illustrates STEAMPUNK

Steampunk novels have certain elements to them, such as the futuristic yet historical looking technology and everyday clothing. Some authors are unable to capture this properly in a steampunk novel, categorizing more as futuristic than steampunk. However, Mulvihill depicts a steampunk setting; from the biggest details such as carriage vehicles to the minor details such as shoes, Mulvihill addresses all areas to provide an authentic yet unique steampunk universe.

Highly descriptive

Mulvihill has an uncanny ability to capture each moment as though it’s a photograph, presenting the story like a photo-album to her readers. She does this for the characters (i.e. hair, aesthetic, persona), the setting (i.e. landscape, buildings,) and much more. Even the little details such as the colour and size of food’s addressed in this novel. If you’re a reader who requires a great amount of descriptors, Mulvihill’s novel is exactly what you’re looking for.

Independent and ferocious heroine

AB’Gale is our main heroine…and boy, she is ONE tough cookie. Only 16-years-old, AB’Gale doesn’t allow for others to control her or sway her intentions and goals. Intelligent and courage, AB’Gale is a female protagonist that many readers can look up to in awe, wishing we were at least 10% as epic as she is. Mulvihill doesn’t create her to be this perfect heroine though, allowing AB’Gale room to grow throughout not only the novel but the Steel Roots series.


Slow at times…

Though the beginning of the novel starts with an intensity like no other as AB’Gale searches for her papa, the remaining first few chapters felt rather slow. The pacing was rather mild and boring, making it a struggle to continue on. However, AB’Gale’s adventures do grow rather quickly and create a more lively atmosphere.

Grammatical errors & dialogue issues

Like I’ve said before, I’m CLEARLY no expert at grammar…heck, I notice more and more spelling errors and grammatical issues as I look back at old posts. However, a novel that has been worked through by an editors and published should have most of this cleared out already. There aren’t enough errors that it irritated me, but it’s a good thing to mention for those who ARE bothered by this.

Annoyances in dialogue choices

Another thing I had a hard time with was the dialogue. The characters, such as AB’Gale, had certain phrases they would repeat…A LOT. The phrase “I don’t know” comes out of AB’Gale’s mouth (or her mind) SO many times, she could be the poster child for this saying. This is when a thesaurus would be greatly appreciated.

Additionally, the way characters talked sometimes changed up. For instance, AB’Gale mainly spoke and thought in what appears to be a dialect common among the working folk. However, her thoughts would sometimes switch to proper sentence structure and remove the slang. Minor? Yes. However, I pay GREAT attention to little things like this.


Mulvihill’s The Boxcar Baby is a fantastic start to the Steel Roots series; it’s fast-paced and an easy read, making it the perfect book to wrap yourself in. Even though parts were slow and some scenes seemed unnecessary, trust me when I say that these “random” parts DO work into the plot later on…pay attention! Furthermore, Mulvihill’s beautiful representation of steampunk and ability to create memorable characters trumps these faults to a “T”. Looking for a steampunk series with a badass female lead? Look no further!


Born in Hollywood and raised in San Diego, CA, J.L. Mulvihill has made Mississippi her home for the past fifteen years. Her debut novel was the young adult title The Lost Daughter of Easa, an engaing fantasy novel bordering on science-fiction with a dash of steampunk, published through Kerlak Publishing.

J.L. also has several short fiction pieces in publication, among them “Chilled Meat”, a steampunk thriller found in the Dreams of Steam II-Of Bolts and Brass, anthology (Kerlak Publishing) and “The Leprechaun’s Story”, a steampunk urban Fantasy found in the anthology, Clockwork, Spells, & Magical Bells (Kerlak Publishing).

J.L. is very active with the writing community, and is the events coordinator for the Mississippi Chapter of Imagicopter known as the Magnolia-Tower. She is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Gulf Coast Writers Association (GCWA), The Mississippi Writers Guild (MWG), as well as the Arts Council of Clinton, and the Clinton Ink-Slingers Writing Group.

Source: Goodreads


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