At its core “Girlfriend on Mars” is a story about love. It follows two main characters who are in a long-term relationship, but it is much more complex than that, with many current themes intertwined. It felt relevant, at times quite funny, and also heartbreaking. Plus, I really enjoyed learning interesting tidbits about Mars and space travel!
-Faith— From Faith's Recs
Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize • One of Scientific American's Best Staff Reads of 2023
A funny, poignant, and page-turning debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.
Amber Kivinen is moving to Mars. Or at least, she will be if she wins a chance to join MarsNow. She and twenty-three reality TV contestants from around the world—including attractive Israeli soldier Adam, endearing fellow Canadian Pichu, and an assortment of science nerds and wannabe influencers—are competing for two seats on the first human-led mission to Mars, sponsored by billionaire Geoff Task.
Meanwhile Kevin, Amber’s boyfriend of fourteen years, was content going nowhere until Amber left him—and their hydroponic weed business—behind. As he tends to (and smokes) the plants growing in their absurdly overpriced Vancouver basement apartment, Kevin tunes in to find out why the love of his life is so determined to leave the planet with somebody else. On screen, Amber competes in globe-trotting, Survivor-meets-Star Trek challenges and seems like she might be falling for Adam. But is that real, or is it just a tactic to keep from being voted off? And since the technology to come home doesn’t exist yet, would Amber really leave everything behind to be a billionaire’s Martian guinea pig? Sure, the rainforest is burning, Geoff Task has bought New Zealand, and Kevin might be a little depressed, but isn’t there some hope left for life on Earth?
An audacious debut from "a dazzlingly smart and strikingly original writer" (Molly Antopol), Girlfriend on Mars is at once a satirical indictment of our pursuit of fame and wealth amidst environmental crisis, and an exploration of humanity’s deepest longing, greatest quest, and most enduring cliché: love.
About the Author
Deborah Willis is the author of Girlfriend on Mars and two acclaimed collections of short stories, including The Dark and Other Love Stories. Her work has appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Walrus, and Zoetrope, among other publications. She lives in Calgary, Canada.
[Deborah] Willis [knows] how to tell a story with the grip of a good drama series... While the setup could have made for a breezy read, Willis cuts deep with insight... Every detail is sharply placed by Willis, who has a scorching sense of humor and a soft spot for humanity down here on Earth.
— Alex Beggs - New York Times Book Review
A sharp, funny take on capitalism, climate change, and our lifelong mission to be loved.
Part disaffected-slacker rom-com, part social satire, part wistful end-of-the-world eulogy for ordinary, unscripted love... Winsome, sweet, and apocalyptic—a perfect blend for the end of days.
— Kirkus Reviews
Both satirical and sobering, Willis’s gimlet-eyed debut spares no one, skewering both apathy and misplaced ambition while keeping the pages turning at a furious pace.
— Booklist (starred review)
Willis keeps up a light tone and a fast pace even while getting deep into the science behind the Mars voyage, and her satire yields plenty of clever insights on celebrity culture. Readers are in for a treat.
— Publishers Weekly
How did Deborah Willis manage to write about love, grief, corporate greed, climate change, and a reality show that sends two people to Mars with such grace and humor and compassion? Girlfriend on Mars blew my mind! This is one of the most original novels I’ve read in a long time.
— Ann Hood, author of Fly Girl
A perfectly observed satire that captures the absurdity—and beauty—of twenty-first century life. It reminded me of so many favorite novelists, from Margaret Atwood to Dave Eggers to Alexandra Kleeman. I loved it.
— Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year
Girlfriend on Mars veers giddily on the brink between satire and tragedy, transporting us to places we never dreamed we’d go... However fantastic, nutty and corrupt this all sounds, we are reminded that [Elon] Musk and his fellow billionaires are already deep into space travel. And that reality, together with Willis’ witty writing, entangles us in the quagmire of comedy, love and fear portrayed in these pages.
— Nancy Wigston - Toronto Star
Girlfriend on Mars is out of this world. Deborah Willis pushes the absurdly miserable, deeply addictive pleasure of reality TV to its only possible end, zooming from euphoria past satire to slam into real life and death. Prescient and poignant, Amber’s reality is an inch from coming true.
— Marina Endicott, author of The Voyage of the Morning Light
A deeply moving, deeply funny novel about love and loyalty in the midst of the paralyzing effects of eco-anxiety and the seductive toxicity of reality entertainment... Girlfriend on Mars is propulsive and surprising in the very best ways—Deborah Willis writes with a combination of pathos and humor that entrances and lights a way forward in this troubled time.
— Suzette Mayr, author of The Sleeping Car Porter
A fresh take on the break-up narrative, mixed with the existential angst of today’s world.
— Library Journal