"It's not fair
!" says Max. And we get a long list of things that aren't fair: some people are rich and others poor, some are born handicapped and others able-bodied, Lili is Dad's chouchou
(his favourite), and, not only that, she got more fries with dinner than Max.
"Did not!" says Lili.
"Did so!" says Max.
They sit down and count them. Max got 32 fries, and Lili got 33.
"See?" says Max triumphantly. But the thing that's really unfair, which has prompted all this philosophising, is that he's fallen in love with Kim, the cute Chinese girl who sits next to him. Kim's diligent in class, and Max, who's a bit of a slacker, often tries to copy her work. She doesn't appreciate this. And when he shyly says that he likes girls who play the violin, she replies that she likes boys who work hard.
Max is in a terrible mood. Later that evening, he gets into a fight with Lili about which TV program to watch. Dad comes in. Lili's grabbed the remote and Max is pulling her hair.
"Stop that at once and go up to your room," says Dad sternly.
"It's not fair," says Max. "She started it. It's just because she's your chouchou
But he goes up to his room all the same. When Lili tries to make it up, he won't talk to her. He's too busy learning the names of the capital cities of Europe.
The next day, Max has a geography test. For once, he's really well prepared. (See, kids? Use
that frustration! Make it work for you!) He's scribbling busily away, 100% focussed on the task. But the reader notices something shocking. Good heavens! Kim is copying Max's work! Whatever is going on?
Max suspects nothing, and is thrilled to hear he's aced the test. Now he's going to get ice-cream on Sunday. Yay! But his joy is short-lived. The next day, teacher says that only two people got a clean score, Kim and Max. They also made exactly the same spelling mistakes. Who cheated? Everyone assumes it must be Max - Kim is top of the class.
"If one of you doesn't confess, you're both getting a zero," says teacher. Kim brazenly tells Max that he might as well turn himself in. Now Max has a real moral dilemma. What's the right thing to do? Tell the truth, or sacrifice himself for his dream girl? Lili wonders what's going on, but Max won't tell her. He does try the old hypothetical question trick though.
"If someone said they'd done something they hadn't done to help someone else, would you think they'd done something good?" he asks.
"I'd say they were real dumb," says Lili, who wants more details. But she doesn't get them.
Max agonises all day. And so does Kim! Her conscience is killing her, but she's also terrified of going home and admitting she got a zero for cheating. Neither one knows what to do. The next morning is crunch time.
"Well?" says teacher, confronting the two suspects.
"I did it!" says Max impulsively. "I'm sorry!" But his noble gesture is too much for Kim, and she confesses too.
"I don't believe you," says teacher. "You're always top in everything." Kim is close to tears. "I prepared," she mumbles, "but I couldn't remember anything. I think I'm doing too much. School work, and sports, and violin, and learning Chinese..." I wondered if this was racist stereotyping, but almost every Asian kid I know has a similar workload. I have to admit it seemed fairly realistic.
The class are following the drama with huge enjoyment. "Give them both a zero!" someone shouts. But teacher thinks otherwise. "Max only lied to protect Kim," she says. "His mark stands. Kim, you're going to take this test again after school."
Somehow, it all ends happily. Max has finally managed to impress his beautiful Chinese princess. She comes and watches his football match on Saturday. The next day, she's invited round to his house and charms everyone with her violin playing. Dad passes out ice-cream cones.
"Max got more!" says Lili. "It's not fair!"
"That's because he's my chouchou
!" says Dad.