Review copy was received from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Fast Girls by Elise Hooper
Published by William Morrow on July 7, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction
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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.
These three athletes will join with others to defy society’s expectations of what women can achieve. As tensions bring the United States and Europe closer and closer to the brink of war, Betty, Louise, and Helen must fight for the chance to compete as the fastest women in the world amidst the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
As this was an Olympic year, I was eager to pick up a historical fiction centered around the Summer Olympics. I knew nothing about any of the women whose stories were told which I thought made Fast Girls a real gem of a find.
The book starts out in 1928, when women’s track and field first became an Olympic event. Betty Robinson, one of the three stories in the book, was present and she was a catalyst for girls and women across the United States to start dreaming of their turn, including Missouri farm girl, Helen, thinking herself an unwanted freak, and Louise Stokes, who grows up under the dreadful load of bigotry as a black girl living just outside of Boston.
All three women have a hard road to the Olympics in their different ways. Their stories nearly broke my heart at all they had to face from the bigotry mentioned above to shattered legs that were never to walk again to childhood rape. And, always finances for all of them during Depression Era America leading up to WWII.
Fast Girls took its time weaving a story for each girl who become women over the years leading up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The author focused on their partly fictional stories, but didn’t leave them in isolation of what was going on in the country and the world of the time. They come from three different walks of life and that was portrayed rather well. Diversity was well-represented in these three- a woman with a disability, a woman of color, and a woman who preferred women (and these parts of the story were not fictional).
But, as fascinating as their lives were, I confess I really started to sit up and take notice when the story moved to Germany. What a frightful time! The American Olympic Committee barely passed the vote not to boycott, but then cut funds to the teams right after the trials because there was little money (Depression). Then the athletes were being pressured to boycott. They all decided that it would be better to win and win big than to stay away. But, while there, faced with the Nazi uniforms, troops everywhere, scared citizens, Swastikas, and other intimidation tactics that were all distractions and stressful. Yes, it got pretty exciting.
The story was about women athletes and there was some focus on their events, but it doesn’t delve deep into the training side or really into the races themselves. The spotlight is definitely on them as people and drew out their early stories and ended right at the point of the Olympics with a brief summation after for their later years and helpful explanations of what had been fiction and what was true.
All in all, it was a perfect read for what I wanted. A little long and lagging in places, but I can easily recommend it to those looking for sports history, Olympic theme, and/or women’s history stories.
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