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A GOOD LIE FURTHERS YOUR AGENDA
By midmorning Monday, I had Katie Knowles believing that I suffer from a terrible disease. One that modern medicine doesn't recognize, can't identify and is powerless to treat.
I told her that I have chronic, degenerative, relapsing-remitting inflammobetigoitis. Which doesn't exist. I culled symptoms of mono, plantar warts, shingles, borderline personality disorder and a bladder infection, as well as listing a bunch of side effects from some TV ads for drugs.
Even for me, this was a whopper.
But I had to come down with whatchamacallit so that I wouldn't have to team up with Katie for the working-with-a-partner project in social studies this semester.
Cannot. Deal. With. Katie.
She's some sort of mechanized humanoid, made up of spare computer parts, all the leafy green vegetables that no one ever eats and thesaurus pages. We're only in eighth grade, but everyone knows she's already picked out her first three college choices, her probable major and potential minor and the focus of her eventual graduate studies. To Katie, middle school is a waste of time, so she takes more classes than she needs to and does extra credit the way the rest of us drink water. She's probably got enough credits already to graduate from high school.
The Friday before, we'd been assigned to be each other's partner for our social studies independent study project: a ten-page paper and an oral presentation in which we would "illuminate some aspect of our government relevant to today's young citizen."
Thanks, Mr. Crosby, way to narrow the scope.
We wouldn't have class for the next week so that we could go to the library or the computer lab to work on our projects. This was going to teach us about independence and self-determination. Or something like that; I wasn't really listening.
I really dig Mr. Crosby; he's pretty laid-back except when he starts talking about what he calls "government pork," and then he gets all wild and upset. I must have irked him somehow to get assigned to Katie. My best friend, JonPaul, and our buddy Jay D., who are the biggest troublemakers this side of a prison riot, were project partners, and even the Bang Girls (I call them that because they're BFFs who have identical haircuts with the exact same fringe hitting their eyeballs in a weird way that makes my eyes water if I look at them too long) had been paired. Before I could ask Crosby what I'd done to set him off, he'd announced, "Once partners are assigned, there will be no switching."
I am not a guy who gives in easily, so I spent the weekend thinking of ways to convince Crosby to change his mind, and avoiding Katie, even though she'd been calling, emailing, IM-ing and texting. It was only third period on Monday morning and already she'd left a couple of notes at my locker and had tracked me in the hall between classes.
I flinched. Katie has one of those bossy yet whiny voices that make you want to stab pencils in your eardrums to make the noise stop. I turned and broke out a killer smile. I can always tell when it's time to crank up the charisma.
"Hey, Katie, I meant to--" I started, but she cut me off before I could come up with plausible and inoffensive reasons why I'd ignored her all weekend.
"It doesn't really matter." She flipped open her notebook and handed me a sheaf of papers. "I utilized the time by getting started on the initial research. You can see that I brainstormed about a dozen ideas we could examine that I believe to be unique and ripe for exploration. Why don't you take the packet home, read everything over, and then let me know by this time tomorrow, if not sooner, what you've decided? I'm okay with any choice you make, and we should, after all, be democratic about how this partnership functions, because of, you know, the class subject and all."
"Uh . . . yeah, right. I see that you, wow, you typed up--what's an abstract, again?"
"A brief summary and succinct explanation, the theoretical ideal, if you will, behind the project topic." She tapped her foot impatiently, probably wondering why I hadn't been writing abstracts since nursery school.
"Sure, that was what I was going to guess. You did an . . . abstract thingie . . . for all twelve ideas?"
"Of course"--she pushed her glasses a little higher on her nose--"because that kind of organization and attention to detail will enable us to make the best possible choice among our options. Besides, I'm sure I can put the seemingly superfluous work to good use in the form of extra-credit projects later in the year."
"Like I said, why don't you take this home and--"
I cut her off. "No, I don't need to do that; let's pick number, um, seven. Yeah, that looks like a great idea."
"The analysis of data collected during the most recent national census about the underserved population and how they interact with and regard the government services structure, especially pertaining to the link between educational grants and future acts of public service?"
I really should have read her summaries, but it was too late. The analysis of the something census and how the something interacts with something as it pertains to something it was.
She beamed when I nodded, and I knew that I'd somehow chosen right even though I didn't know what the peewadden she was talking about, and I was sure, if I'd tried, really hard and for a very long time, I could not have come up with a more butt-numbing topic.
From the Hardcover edition.