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

By: Elise Hooper
Published On: July 7, 2020

When someone thinks of the 1936 Olympics, most people will associate it with Jesse Owens set against a tense political landscape. They wouldn’t be wrong – he won 4 gold medals and became a legend. But beyond that women were still fighting for acceptance as athletes as many felt that a woman’s place was at home or believed in the myth that too much exercise would hinder a woman’s ability to have children. Fast Girls is a historical fiction novel that follows 3 women who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The story starts several years prior, in 1928, where Betty Robinson is a competitor in athletics (track and field). Prior to 1928 women did not compete in track and field events and even then there were only 5 events they could enter. But back at home there were other girls that were being inspired by this such as Helen Stephens and Louise Stokes.

Through the years leading up to 1936 we follow each of their stories, but also learn and become engaged with a few other women athletes, such as Tidye Pickett who was the first African American woman to not only go to the Olympics, but be able to compete. We follow their struggles to train and be coached, gender discrimination, racial discrimination and personal trials – all leading up to the 1936 games, where religious discrimination was evident as well in Germany.

Due to WWII, the Olympics were not held again until 1948. Several of the girls who might have gone onto compete again in 1940 were not able. At the end there is an Afterword giving the reader details on each of the girls featured or mentioned in the story.

Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins Publishes for the ARC and opportunity to provide an honest review.


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. 

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