Foul Is Fair
By Mary Cosola,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Dark, violent revenge tale is a teen update of "Macbeth."
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Story is based on Shakespeare play Macbeth. Some aspects of fencing explained. Provides a look at how people in power get away with crimes.
If you witness or have information on a crime, you should report it. The need for revenge can be damaging to a person. If you're the victim of a crime, you can get help from professionals, including counselors, doctors, law enforcement.
Positive Role Models
Lilia is the head of the mean girl clique, but she has a conscience. Jade and her friends are fiercely loyal to one another. Jade is Indian American. Her dark-skinned friend Mads is transgender, has a Latinx last name. Her friend Summer is bisexual. It's implied that her friend Jenny is Korean.
Violence & Scariness
Story is violent at its core. A teen is drugged and gang-raped at a party, which is remembered in flashbacks that become clearer as story progresses. Characters are violently murdered. Narrative includes frequent violent imagery, including visualizing murders, brandishing knives, lots of blood. Some characters are sadistic. Some hitting, slapping, grabbing. Frequent verbal bullying. One character is victim of anti-trans bullying in flashback. Misogynistic behavior from most of the male characters.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teens in story are all sexually active, talk about it a lot. Some kissing and making out. Teens have sex but it isn't graphically described. Attractiveness and desirability are highly valued by the characters. Girls are acutely aware of their sexuality and the currency it has in society. The teen boy characters act like they control girls and who gets to date whom.
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Frequent strong language includes "f--k" and variations, "s--t" and variations, "whore," "piss," "damn," "bitch," "slut," "dyke," "hell," "a--hole," "pr--k," "ass," "p---y," "bastard," and "bulls--t." "God" and "Jesus" used as exclamations.
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Products & Purchases
A few brands and media mentioned for scene setting: Clinique, Mustang, Maserati, BMW, Lexus, Starbucks, Parliament cigarettes, Instagram.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Lots of underage alcohol consumption, including multiple parties and teens sneaking into bars. One teen smokes cigarettes a few times and is on some pills, but it isn't clear what they are or whether they're prescription. Teens smoke weed.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Foul Is Fair is a modern take on William Shakespeare's Macbeth, set in ultra-rich neighborhoods of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. After a teen girl is drugged and gang-raped at a party, she enacts a violent, deadly plan for revenge. Helping her are her three friends, who fill the roles of the witches to her Lady Macbeth. The story is violent, with multiple murders and lots of violent imagery. Teens with seemingly no parental supervision do pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want. There is lots of drinking, some drug use, sex, and frequent profanity (including "f--k," "s--t" and their variations). Though the story is fantastical, it explores trauma, how men get away with rape and abuse, the ways the powerful gain and maintain their power, and the destructive complicity of people who know about horrible acts but don't speak up. The violence, misogyny, and rape flashbacks might be too intense for younger or sensitive readers.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
In FOUL IS FAIR, Elle Khanjara goes out for a big night with her friends on her 16th birthday. They attend an exclusive party thrown by kids from St. Andrew's Prep, the fanciest private school in town. She's given a drugged drink and is raped by four boys, all of whom are lacrosse stars and rule the halls of St. Andrew's. Her memories are sketchy, but she pieces together most of what happened that night, including who mixed and gave her the drink, who attacked her, and who the rapists' friends are who knew what was going on but didn't stop it. She and her friends devise a plan to kill or destroy everyone involved. She changes her appearance, enrolls at St. Andrew's, and starts going by her middle name, Jade. Over the course of two weeks, she manipulates people into committing murders and upends the social hierarchy at the school. One by one, the guilty teens pay the price for their crimes, but suspicion and paranoia threaten to derail her plan.
Is It Any Good?
This over-the-top revenge tale starts out intense and juicy but gets bogged down by its melodramatic style. The loosely Macbeth-based action and plot of Foul Is Fair requires readers to suspend their disbelief throughout the story, but author Hannah Capin provides an insightful look at the ways privileged men get away with terrible acts -- in this case, rape -- and how they're abetted by associates and institutions who look the other way in order to preserve their own status and standing. After she is assaulted, Jade becomes single-minded in her quest for violent, murderous revenge.
Over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Jade and her friends are sociopaths, which makes it hard to relate to them, even though their rage and drive for vengeance are well founded. In fact, pretty much all the characters are horrible people and one-dimensional. It's not necessary for books to have likable characters, but few of these characters and their actions are relatable in any way, making it hard to engage with the story. And for a book that takes place over two weeks and jumps right into the action, the pace is plodding at times. This is due mostly to the repetitive nature of the writing, especially the dialogue, which is overly dramatic and unnatural to the point of being tedious. Capin occasionally provides a realistic glimpse of the deep trauma Jade's dealing with, but those few scenes only serve to highlight how over-the-top the rest of the story is.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about speaking up when we see something terrible happen. In Foul Is Fair, Jade feels that the kids who knew the St. Andrew's boys were drugging and assaulting girls but did nothing to stop it are as guilty as the rapists. How do you feel about this?
How do you feel about stories set in high schools with extreme social cliques, such as cruel popular boys and vicious mean girls? Is the over-the-top aspect fun for you? Does it bear any likeness to real life in high school? Why do you think these kinds of stories are so popular?
Foul Is Fair is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Do you like modern versions of old stories? Do the updates make the concepts more interesting or understandable to you? If most teens don't know the play Macbeth, why update it for a young adult book?
- Author: Hannah Capin
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Wednesday Books
- Publication date: February 18, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 336
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: February 19, 2020
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