Sunday, November 29, 2020

Foul Is Fair, by Hannah Capin

Most YA stories about rape focus on recovery.  The victim works through the trauma and gets on with their life in some way or another.  The attacker may/may not go to jail (or perhaps fall victim to some random act of nature that serves in lieu of a final judgment).  In Foul Is Fair, the attacked becomes the attacker in an unrestrained blood-soaked revenge.  Allegedly inspired by Macbeth but with a good nod at works ranging from Hamlet to Heathers, this unapologetically violent and unrelenting revenge fantasy takes us in new directions.

Drugged at a party and then gang-raped, Elle is reborn as "Jade." She cuts her hair and enrolls at the school that her attackers attend, plotting an elaborate and brash revenge plot.  With the help of her three besties, she befriends the boys (who fail to recognize her) and gradually gets them to kill each other off, exploiting their vanity, ego, and arrogance.  This is ruthless and cold-blooded and she repeated assures us (all the way through the bloody end) that she doesn't care.

And that ultimately is what made this story not work for me.  She's so obviously sociopathic that it's hard to feel anything at all for her in return.  I get the initial appeal of a strong kick-ass heroine who rights wrongs by ruthlessly taking out the bad guys, but a story like this only works if there's some growth in the end.  While there's some tension mid-way as we begin to wonder if her will will falter when it comes to Mack (the one boy she appears to have a soft spot for), the author is really just playing with us.  It is sufficient to quote the last words of the book ("I'm not sorry") to get a sense of how much Elle/Jade grows as a character.

Bloodthirsty Lady Macbeth is a compelling character because she is a figure of tragedy.  Is Jade intended to be that same way?  Perhaps, but Capin wants us to see her as a victorious warrior and that's hard to see when everything ends up so badly.  You can't have things both ways.  Either this is tragedy or it is not.  As tragedy, she can't be an inspiration.  As inspiration, she has to be somehow redeeming.  She has her vengeance and it is certain that the boys will never hurt another girl, but in doing so no great strides have been made for her, other young women, or the readers.  Annihilation is not empowerment.

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