I read short fiction, too.
“How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade by Nick Poniatowski is a sweet, smoothly crafted, heartbreaking fantasy about what it’s like to be queer (in both senses of the word) and smart in junior high school. It’s about those silly assignments teachers make you do and the dream (which I’m sure every bright kid has) of doing work that has real value, even if no one recognizes it.
I call it fantasy, because there’s a lot about what happens in this story that isn’t quite believable. Why would an alien ship lurk in the Earth’s atmosphere, ignoring every attempt at communication but that of a lonely seventh grader with a model rocket? Were they on safari? Poniatowski leaves that up to the reader’s imagination, and thinking of a plausible explanation takes more than a little imaginative yoga. But the story has deep emotional resonance, and I suspect that many readers who spent the ’90s watching the x-files and dreaming of something better will find a lot to relate to in Ashley and Tyler, and this slice of junior high.