Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Review : Orange is The New Black by Piper Kerman

  • Release Date : April 6th 2010
  • Genre : Nonfiction/Memoir
  • Publisher : Random House (Spiegel & Grau)
  • Pages : 298

Synopsis :With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424

I finally made the leap into nonfiction with my first adult memoir ! Chances are you've heard of this title as the book has recently been adapted into hit Netflix television show (or is it web series ?)  I started watching the show while reading the book and it gave me a really interesting look into adaptations.

Orange is the New Black is the memoir of Piper Kerman, an intelligent all-american blonde haired, blue eyed, self-identified WASP who finds herself sentenced to a year in a federal prison camp for carrying a bag of drug money for an ex-girlfriend 10 years earlier. Her memoir gives the reader an unfiltered first hand look as she learns to navigate the culture of the federal prison system. Along the way, she also offers some commentary of the U.S prison system as well as the "war on drugs."

Piper immediately doesn't fit into the "tribe system" of the prison which is socially segregated by black women,the "Spanish mamis" and Italian-Americans. But eventually she grows friendships with women from across tribes and finds her own place in the system. Kerman's writing comes across as very honest, she recognizes and confronts her own privilege within the system. The only thing I found odd is how she would sometimes write in slang, and I'm not sure why. It would always take me out of the book.

I recently finished the 13 episode first season and I think the show is doing the book justice. What I think the show gets right is the dark comedy tone, because despite the bad situation Piper does pull a lot of humor out of it. Many of the lines and plots out of first few episodes are based on anecdotes from the book. Yes, the show does dramatizes many of Piper's experiences, like in the show she gets starved out by the kitchen for insulting the food to the cook, but in the book she just gets yelled at a few times. 

But there are also little things you miss from not reading, like how Piper deems a certain subset of girls Eminemlettes who are

".... from the wrong side of the tracks with big mouths and big attitudes, who weren’t taking shit from anyone (except the men in their lives). They had thinly plucked eyebrows, corn-rowed hair, hip-hop vocabularies, and baby daddies, and they thought Paris Hilton was the ne plus ultra of feminine beauty."

And so when you see a Madeline Brewer's character, Tricia Miller you don't have Piper's interpretation of her. You also don't know that the character is embodying  the many Enimenlettes Piper discusses.
OiTNB actress, Taylor Schilling(left) w/ Piper Kerman

However, as the show goes on it does pull away from the stories in the book. And while the work her fiance Larry does as a writers is important in the long run for Piper, I'm not sure why the show focuses on him so much. A lot about Larry isn't in the actual book and I've kind of found his storyline the most boring in the show.

I've learned there are two types of nonfiction readers; those who take the book at face value and those who get to the Google-Fu to learn everything they can; I am the latter. Kerman's story has been out there for a while, since her book release she's appeared in Marie Claire, Time and New York Mag discussing her experience. And aside from consulting on the show, she seems to have moved on with her life since though. There is a lot of info about her and I'm curious to see what there is about the people she was imprisoned with.

Reading this and watching the series has made me
think more about adaptations. I used to think you had to read the book and then watch the movie, but I see you can do it both ways. I suggest if  you've binge watched the series and want to know what was real and what was fiction this is the book for you.


  1. Fantastic! I haven't read the book, but did enjoy the show and have been wanting to go back and read (I work in a juvenile correctional facility, so there are tons of parallels). Rebecca at Love at First Book is doing a redalong/discussion of this right now if you want to join in! and if you want to feed your new jump into non-fiction, Sophisticated Dorkiness is running a whole month of non-fiction related stuff for November:

  2. Oh, cool ! Thanks ! You always have the best tips and links. I think if you like the show you will like the book. I enjoyed the show too and can't wait for the second season !

  3. I didn't know this was a memoir. I'm not a non-fiction reader by any stretch but I do love learning about new things. A perspective on living inside a federal prison sounds interesting.
    Great review!

  4. I'd never read nonfic either, but I enjoyed OiTNB. It reads kind of novel-y, so you may enjoy it if you are more use to fiction.

  5. I didn't know it was a book! I've seen it advertised on Netflix and heard people talk about it, but I haven't tried it out yet. I'm definitely more likely to pick up the book, instead of the TV show!


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