I always enjoy reading new young adult novels, and all of us at Ada’s have been looking forward to the release of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford and illustrated by Kelly Murphy. The protagonists are Ada Lovelace and Mary Godwin, living in a fictionalized rendering of 19th century London. Although Ada and Mary weren’t really contemporaries, their lives and what they represent, individually or presented in tandem as they are in this book, elicits a joyful reading experience. Author Jordan Stratford establishes at the outset that while the story within and aspects of the universe in The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency is fictional, the characters are based closely on the real Ada and Mary, as are the other historical figures populating their cast of friends and companions, including their tutor Percy Bysshe Shelley, their friend Charles Dickens, and an off-screen father of Ada, Lord Byron.
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone
Ada and Mary are the students of their newly acquired tutor, Peebs (Percy Bysshe Shelly). Mary happily embraces the opportunity to be tutored alongside Lady Byron while Ada is hesitant to open up to Mary and doubtful that Peebs can teach her anything she doesn’t already know. Ada’s attitude changes slightly after Peebs brings her a newspaper and Ada discovers the fascinating world of apprehended criminals. After Mary points out that Ada is more clever than the criminals who don’t get caught and make the paper, and Ada invokes the political spirit of Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, who penned Vindication of the Rights of Women, the two agree to fill the gaps left by the local constabulary, and clandestinely offer their services via The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency. They have their friend Charles plant an advertisement in the paper and, after filtering through a series of replies, take on their first job, The Case of the Missing Moonstone.
The main audience for The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency is middle-school age readers. I think Stratford is successful in re-creating versions of Ada and Mary that are good and mostly realistic role models for young readers. Ada is brilliant and calculating. She exudes her critical-thinking skills with rigid logic, breaking each problem down into its simplest parts. Yet, Ada is also a bit naive, not knowing the names of any of her housemaids, or grasping the implications of her relationship (or lack thereof) to them (arguably an expected result of her upbringing). In contrast to Ada, Mary is understanding of and emotionally in-tune to those around her. Yet, Mary is also prone to an excess of whimsy and romanticism, resulting in her tendency to lose grip on the problem at hand. Together, Mary and Ada present a good balance of the two modes of thinking and a clear testament to collaboration and partnership. They as individuals and as a team provide a good model for young readers to admire and emulate.
Ada and Mary take the case.
As for the story’s content, the mystery is elegantly simple without being painfully obvious. This is due in part to the steady pacing. I never felt as though Stratford was giving too much up too quickly, but there was also near-constant movement for one or more characters, staving off stagnancy. That said, the steady pace may challenge readers who are quick to frustration. Similarly, the vocabulary sometimes echoes 19th century prose, which may present a challenge to some readers. Stratford defines the most difficult words in context through the elegant device of the elder Mary compulsively explaining the definition of certain words to the younger Ada. Since Ada does not need the explanation (she knows or can figure out the meaning of most words), this device both defines the word and helps define character and creates a mild (and relatable) point of tension between the two girls.
Percy Bysshe Shelly, action poet, repels from a balloon onto the rooftop of a London factory.
Overall, The Case of the Missing Moonstone is enjoyable to read. The story promotes cooperation between individuals and advocates for calculating and creative critical-thinking in tandem rather than in conflict. The cast of characters is broad enough that a wide range of young readers may find someone with whom they identify. The use of real-life historical figures provides a solid foundation upon which the fictional tale is unveiled, and the notes about each character at the back of the book present another learning opportunity beyond the confines of the series.
Jordan Stratford is coming to Ada’s to read from The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone on Sunday, February 8th, at 4pm.