Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women’s Olympic Team by Elise Hooper

I love everything about the Olympics. I’ve thrown parties on the opening nights of Olympic ceremonies. I watch as much coverage as I can. Summer or Winter Olympics, it doesn’t matter. I enjoy it all. So when I saw a fictional account of women vying for the 1936 Olympics team, I put Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women’s Olympic Team (Amazon) (AbeBooks) on my TBR list. Then, Amazon had a kindle deal on the book. Into the library it went.

“In the 1928 Olympics, Chicago’s Betty Robinson competes as a member of the first-ever women’s delegation in track and field. Destined for further glory, she returns home feted as America’s Golden Girl until a nearly-fatal airplane crash threatens to end everything.

Outside of Boston, Louise Stokes, one of the few black girls in her town, sees competing as an opportunity to overcome the limitations placed on her. Eager to prove that she has what it takes to be a champion, she risks everything to join the Olympic team.

From Missouri, Helen Stephens, awkward, tomboyish, and poor, is considered an outcast by her schoolmates, but she dreams of escaping the hardships of her farm life through athletic success. Her aspirations appear impossible until a chance encounter changes her life.”

Writing three narratives is not for the faint of heart, but I think Elise Hooper did such a good job. I became invested in each character throughout the story. Each story begins years before the 1936 Olympics. There’s Betty, already a gold-medal winner in the 1928 Olympics, who gets in a car accident and has to learn to walk again. Helen is uncomfortable in her own skin, tall and awkward, unless she’s running, that is. Louise is black and encounters prejudice her whole life, and her hope of running in Berlin in 1936 is a slim one, but she perseveres.

There are separate chapters for each woman’s story, as well as manufactured newspaper articles portraying the sexism and racism of the day, but is based on fact, which makes the story even more compelling. Once the story reaches Berlin, the fascism and atmosphere of what it must have been like in Germany at the time rings through.

As with most historical fiction, I always look forward to the Afterward, finding out how much of the stories told were true and what was the writer’s imagination. The author does a great job of describing each woman’s real life and what became of them after the Olympics. I highly recommend this book!

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