I, Ada Rebel. Genius. Visionary is an absorbing and fascinating book telling the story of the early life of Ada Lovelace the 19th-century mathematician who is only now, long after her death, recognised as “the first computer programmer”. The joy of well researched historical fiction, particularly when based on a real-life figure, is that it fleshes out the facts creating a real person rather than a list of dates and events. Julia Gray’s writing is peppered with wit and an understanding of Ada as a young woman resulting in this being a book for readers to savour and enjoy whilst also being made aware of the attitudes, lifestyles, and achievements of well-known 19th-century figures.
Ada was the daughter of the famous and notorious poet, Lord Bryon, a man she never knew and Annabella Millbanke, an accomplished mathematician. From an early age Ada is subjected to strict control by her mother who is determined that her daughter will not grow up to display what she perceives to be the failings of Bryon. Despite this, or possibly partly because of it, young Ada craves to learn more about her father and as she matures her imagination, creativity and desire for knowledge and understanding of ideas of all kinds develop. The troubled relationship between mother and daughter and Ada’s frequent ill-health makes her achievements even more impressive. In her afterword, Julia Gray refers to her writing process as ‘to imagine out’ from the sources to create the story and the narrative voice of Ada as she relates her experiences is strong and realistic. This is a young woman of considerable intellect but also of passion and imagination.
There are parallels between the attitudes of society towards Ada as the daughter of the renowned but scandalous Bryon and 21st-century gossip about, and obsession with, celebrity. Ada has to contend with gossip-based on who she is which in turn affects her moods and behaviour. This will be recognisable to today’s teen readers. Although in many ways a character with warmth we also witness her wilful attitude and her impetuous behaviour, which, particularly when she first experiences love, can have unpleasant consequences. The gradual dawning of her understanding of the possibilities created by Babbage’s machine is fascinating to observe and Ada’s increased social awareness and maturity are engaging.
An enjoyable read for its own sake I, Ada Rebel. Genius. Visionary. would also be valuable in the classroom with its obvious curriculum links to STEAM subjects and to Ada Lovelace Day marked in October. The references to Bryon and his poetry may also prompt the reader to explore this aspect further.
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