Sunday Review: Fast Girls by Elise Hooper

Reading this novel during the 2021 summer Olympics added a new layer of insight for me. The furor over Simone Biles’s decision to step away from certain events for the sake of her mental health made me realize that the pressures suffered by Black runner Louise Stokes in 1932 and 1936 haven’t really eased. Although Black female athletes today don’t have to overcome as many obstacles just to compete, they still face more scrutiny and harsher judgment than their male and white counterparts. Louise’s story was very poignant.

The other two athletes who are prominently featured—Betty Robinson and Helen Stephens—each have amazing stories too. Betty was an Olympian in 1928—the first ever gold medalist in the women’s 100m event—but suffered a devastating injury she had to overcome to race again. Helen had personal obstacles to overcome, including an obstructive father. And all three of the athletes and their families were affected by the economic devastation of the Great Depression.

Elise Hooper has done us all a great service by shining a light on the early history of women’s track and field. Plus, it’s an engaging novel, well told and perfectly paced—just like a well-run race.

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