I, ADA – The Times’ Children’s Book of the Week

I am totally delighted that I, ADA was chosen as the Children’s Book of the Week by Alex O’Connell in The Times.

Read the article here [paywall] or pasted below:


It’s been a bad week for the algorithm, with its blunt treatment of teachers’ exam assessments. Thankfully, this imaginatively told story of the British mathematician Ada Lovelace — who is often referred to as the first computer programmer, having come up with the first algorithm to be processed by a machine — returns it some affection.

Julia Gray, who wrote a terrific YA crime novel, Little Liar, beautifully tells the part-fictionalised life of Ada (and clarifies the liberties she has taken in her author’s note). If you want to read Ada’s lengthy notes on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, an early computer, this is not the novel for you. Instead, Gray vividly pictures Ada’s gilded, isolated childhood in various large empty rental houses, populated with short-lived tutors, Furies (friends of her mother’s who guarded her suffocatingly) and sexy shorthand tutors (well, one), then imagines what drove her.

Ada was first but not foremost the daughter of Lord Byron, the greatest poet of his day, and Anne Isabella, a wealthy intellect. Lady Byron separated scandalously from her husband. Gray paints him as a caged bird to his wife’s prison warden, but also acknowledges him as an unhinged serial adulterer who may have had an incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta.

Byron left for Europe when Ada was a baby, leaving her in the care of her exacting, controlling mother. Gray captures cleverly the horror of the plain, book-gobbling child being born into a celebrity family, without any knowledge of her pa, the star at its centre. Much of the story takes the form of a mystery in which Ada catches glimpses of her father from those who knew him. Her mother refuses to discuss him in detail, even after his death (until a theatrical reveal at the end).

Gray gives us a basic maths tutorial along the way, but, appropriately for youngish readers, the details of Ada’s discoveries play second fiddle to her upbringing (she must lie still on a plank when distracted from her studies), her search for her father and marriage to the Earl of Lovelace. Ada’s imagination is irrepressible, from her love of fairies to her fascination with Euclid and steam engines. Funny that the woman who dreamt of algorithms could never be captured by one.