It’s time to talk about the true story behind the hit TV series Orange is the New Black. I’ve never seen the show, but it’s definitely on my watch list. As for the book, Orange is the New Black was a Christmas present from my cousin’s lovely girlfriend, Kelsey. This book was languishing on my Goodreads want to read list until Kelsey gifted it to me and got me to read the darn thing. I cannot thank her enough for the motivation because Orange is the New Black has been one of the most satisfying reads thus far in 2014.
Image above borrowed from Goodreads
Sometimes the buzz around shows and movies bring to light books that I would never have picked up if left to my own devices. What I loved about the memoir was its approach to its serious content. Author Piper Kerman is not asking to be taken as a victim. She takes responsibility for her actions and uses the opportunity to point out the injustices within the justice system that make her purview more about others’ experience than strictly her own. Each chapter has a smaller level theme that builds to illustrate the flaws in the system of women’s prisons.
These pockets of stories reveal a larger narrative that keep you reading late into the night. Or at least I did. I got sucked into this book and finished it over a weekend. It’s really perfect for a trip or even a beach day. Plus I always feel super intelligent reading nonfiction in public, so it’s an ego perk.
You occasionally hear the media or maybe some political friends talking about how easy prisoners have it these days. Piper’s every page shows how inaccurate that is. For example, it is said multiple times in the book that the worst thing you can be in prison is sick because the health care is minimal. Or how the prison provided inadequate rehabilitation services for inmates being sent back out into the “real world.” But there are also touching stories about how people connect with one another when they need it most. You’ll laugh. You’ll cringe. And you’ll find yourself involved with this memoir.
I’ve heard that many viewers find Piper to be whiny in the TV series, but in the book Piper doesn’t come off as whiny. She’s hyper aware of the privileges she has in life that made prison easier (being white, gainfully employed, and well off with a well-appointed lawyer), but she also learned a lot about others in a way that molded the woman who decided to take pen to paper. Since leaving the hands of the criminal justice system, she has become better informed and an activist for changes in the way the system runs. Every once in a while she gets up on her soapbox to illustrate how foolish some of the legislation is or how unjust the treatment is for women with minor offenses. It’s an informative narrative but it is not lecturing at you, which is an important balance for me as a reader.
This memoir is such a specific experience, but I wish she would write another book. Piper is such a compelling writer and conveys character so well. Short of another stint in prison, I cannot really see Piper writing again. But I really hope I’m wrong. In any event, Orange is the New Black is worth your reading time and not just your screen time.