Running so hard you think you’ll choke on your next breath. Lungs burning like they’re drenched in battery acid. Peripheral vision blurred by the same adrenaline that drowns out the cheers coming from the full stadium. And of course, the reporters. The men scribbling furiously on their notepads so they can publish every stumble, sprain, and sniffle.This was the world of the female athletes in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, the first games in which women were allowed to compete in track and field on a trial basis. Nicknamed “The Peerless Four,” the Canadian track team included some of the strongest, most diversely talented women on the scene. Narrated by the team’s chaperone—a former runner herself—the women embark on their journey with the same golden goals as every other Olympian, male or female. But as the Olympic tension begins to rise with unexpected injuries and disqualifications, each woman discovers new fears and priorities, all while the weight of women’s future in the Olympics rests on their performance.
The Peerless Four is more than a sports novel, more than a record of women’s rights. It’s a meditation on sacrifice, loyalty, perseverance, and the courage to live a true underdog tale.
Faced with gender stereotypes defined by the societal norms of the time, The Peerless Four, were four young women who “both were creators and beneficiaries of history, living a moment they couldn’t believe existed.” This was not just a sports novel about the superior athleticism of these four strong women getting to experience a moment that was unreachable but a reflective appreciation of the path that women like this struggled to carve in a male dominated world of whose rules created and limited their accomplishments and expectations.
On the cusp of making history since the banishment of women from the Olympic games, Florence Smith, Ginger Hadley, Muriel Ziegler and Bonnie Brody, known as The Peerless Four, were selected to first compete at the 1928 Olympics in track and field on a trial basis. Similar to other trailblazers, they faced their share of discouragement from many including the press. They were individually told everything from, you are not going to be able to get married, this will ruin your chances of having children, you should stay home and let the phone ring to their aspiration to be like men.
Their story, narrated by their chaperone, who to conformity had to give up her own dreams, chronicled their experience highlighting the plight of how far women have come and the miles ahead that haven’t been touched. In a time where looking pretty and aspiring to be only a housewife were the expectation of women, it was refreshing reading characters who represent the strength of women who had an inner voice strong enough to believe in themselves when no one else did. They each had their own story to tell but collectively shared the same characteristics of strength, determination, willpower and a drive to achieve beyond what others couldn’t.
Some of you might shy away because you may think this book may just be for people who love sports but it’s more than that. It’s a well written narrative that even though if you don’t relate to the characters you can appreciate what they wanted to be and what they wanted to do with their life. These are characters that you can be inspired by because with all that they went through, it takes a special kind of person to push through that sort of pressure where your success determines everyone’s fate.
Reviewed by Michelle Bowles
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 10/22/2013