Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Orange Is the New Black

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 —...

Title:Orange Is the New Black
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0385523386
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:298 pages

Orange Is the New Black Reviews

  • Larry Smith

    [Spoiler alert as to the ending of the book! Read at your own risk.]

    I'm biased because Piper is my wife, and I'm in this book. But I still think it's am amazing journey story. I'm pretty sure if I didn't know Piper I would be spreading the word on ORANGE just as I've done other books. I read a pre-hype galley of

    , thought it was amazing, and sent to at least 5 friends. So there. Read Piper's book: you'll be really glad you did.

  • Lynn

    What a shocker! A well-educated, upper class white woman goes to prison and builds strong bonds with her fellow inmates, who are mostly undereducated women of color from the wrong side of the tracks.

    I liked the book and I liked her. I did. But it irritates me that she seems to be marketing the book as this revealing story about how we're all just human after all. I didn't find her writing condescending of the other women. I found her to be non-judgmental and a truly good friend to everyone wort

    What a shocker! A well-educated, upper class white woman goes to prison and builds strong bonds with her fellow inmates, who are mostly undereducated women of color from the wrong side of the tracks.

    I liked the book and I liked her. I did. But it irritates me that she seems to be marketing the book as this revealing story about how we're all just human after all. I didn't find her writing condescending of the other women. I found her to be non-judgmental and a truly good friend to everyone worthy of her friendship. She suffers the indignities of prison with a straightforward kind of courage. She takes pride in the friendships she builds, in the work she does in prison and when opportunities arise for her because of her blonde hair and "tight ass" - opportunities that would endear her to the prison staff yet distance her from her fellow inmates - she politely turns them down. So what's my problem? Well, maybe this is unfair of me, but here goes: It still feels too self-congratulatory, too arrogant. And WAY too self-serving. While these friendships were meaningful to her in prison, I highly doubt she maintains them. She doesn't cop to the fact that the prison is a bubble, not the kind of bubble we think of when we talk about the lives of celebrities, but a bubble nonetheless. And the friendships she built, she built as a means to her own survival. She admits to reading the "How to Survive Prison" books, and I have no doubt that she hatched her plan to become "just one of the gang" as a result.

    And that's why there's no epilogue. She walks out of prison and she leaves those friendships behind. There's nothing more to tell about Pop, or Jae, or Natalie, because I suspect they are out of her life for good. Quite simply, she doesn't need them anymore. And what does she make of this experience in the final analysis? She writes a book that is by and large about how she conquered prison. How she navigated its tricky waters with aplomb. How she managed to always come out smelling like a rose. It bugs me.

    I would feel differently if now, instead of working in PR in some DC company shilling god-knows-what, she were working toward making some sort of positive difference. But I think for her it's just, Been there, Done that, Wrote the book. Back to my regularly scheduled life of privilege.

  • Joice

    Allow me to summarize: "So, I am a privileged, white girl who was lost and confused. I made some mistakes, including becoming involved with an international drug ring. Oopsie. However, by the grace of my own incredible will, I got out, met a nice boy, and became a productive citizen. Then boom! Somebody snitched, and the government baddies came and put me in prison. But I was stoic! My heavens, was I ever! I accepted my fate and the consequences for my actions. And I was also pretty special. Des

    Allow me to summarize: "So, I am a privileged, white girl who was lost and confused. I made some mistakes, including becoming involved with an international drug ring. Oopsie. However, by the grace of my own incredible will, I got out, met a nice boy, and became a productive citizen. Then boom! Somebody snitched, and the government baddies came and put me in prison. But I was stoic! My heavens, was I ever! I accepted my fate and the consequences for my actions. And I was also pretty special. Despite my whiteness, all the brown and black folks loved me (because Blondie--yours truly--had street smarts and was ever so helpful to those in need). And you guys, these people taught me so much about life, love, and how hard it is to be NOT white and privileged! Which was totally cool. These people were my friends and I was sad when I had to leave them."

    What a pile of sanctimonious balderdash.

  • Clair

    After a very hearty recommendation from several people I trust, I started watching the Netflix original TV show Orange is The New Black. While it can be a little disjointed and awkward in parts, it has its charm. The characters are memorable and the story-lines are very compelling. While I haven't had time to marathon the series in its entirety, I thought to check out Piper Kerman's candid memoir of her life in prison, where she was incarcerated for a drug trafficking charge almost a decade afte

    After a very hearty recommendation from several people I trust, I started watching the Netflix original TV show Orange is The New Black. While it can be a little disjointed and awkward in parts, it has its charm. The characters are memorable and the story-lines are very compelling. While I haven't had time to marathon the series in its entirety, I thought to check out Piper Kerman's candid memoir of her life in prison, where she was incarcerated for a drug trafficking charge almost a decade after committing the crime.

    So, how does Kerman's biography stand up to the TV show? Well... There's certainly enough material to adapt, considering Kerman was a fish completely out of water when put into the prison scene, and tensions and drama are definitely going to crop up in a prison. A little like high school, there are popular people whom you need to earn the approval of, there are authority figures who are either completely out of touch with your day to day life, or otherwise completely corrupt; there are inmates who you might need to avoid, et cetera.

    What I'm most disappointed in with Orange is the New Black is how it handles what the prison system does to its female inmates, and how different it is to the experience of a male prisoner. You'd think a highly educated person such as Piper Kerman (coming from a very privileged background, and educated at a private university) would notice these things and refer to facts and figures and essays in her work, but no. Orange is the New Black is honestly one of the most nearsighted biographies I have read.

    Here's the thing – I know biographies are supposed to be somewhat nearsighted. They're accounts of something that happened to a singular person, whether they worked their guts out to become the Grand Chessmaster or a singer or a dancer or a professional chef.

    However, Orange is the New Black deals with a rather sensitive subject, that being the experience of a female in prison. There are tonnes of creative and intellectual ways to describe the isolation, the alienation, the sisterhood between inmates, the class structure between the incarcerated and the prison staff, and how a lot of women in prison cope with being unable to see their families or care for their children. (Which is briefly touched upon, but each time it's a rather throwaway reference. It reads like: “Look at these women who don't want their kids to visit them! Back to me. Back to me. Back to me. Oh, would you look at the kids meeting their mothers on Mothering Sunday. Sad isn't it. Back to me.”)

    The book makes one statistic clear to us, though – the US prison population skyrockets year upon year. The length of incarceration and recidivism affects people from all levels of society – if you ever take a crime module in Sociology, prepare to blow apart the New Right's belief that criminals are only ever low-class, uneducated thugs, and that rich people have the morals to not commit crimes. Piper may not exclusively rub elbows with corrupt bankers and corporate embezzlers in prison, but it is important to note that Piper really, really casts herself as sticking out like a sore thumb. Which, admittedly, she is – she's a university-educated upper-middle class girl whose bohemian post-college days led her to making bad decisions and whoops, having to pay the consequences for it later down the line. A lot of girls in the prison don't have a high school education, and the high school degree programme in the prison has been shut down due to the prison's only classroom becoming mouldy.

    You'd think Piper would come in and point out about the lack of opportunities for education and how prisons are subject to constant budget cuts despite the fact that some states in the US spend more on their incarcerated individuals than they do on school children. Nope! It's just swept away as an aside.

    Here's the thing – prison would open your eyes a lot more than the way Piper carries on. She just goes through her days like nothing is wrong. Piper's day is essentially: “I did this. I did that. Everyone was surprisingly nice to me. I noticed this. I did that. I missed my old life. I went to bed.” Towards the start of her incarceration, Piper starts getting books sent in from all her friends, and loving letters of encouragement. Followed by one brief observation about how there are some people who get no letters or gifts whatsoever. It would have been nice to elaborate on that in a more empathic way than: “Oh, what a shame. Her family and friends don't write to her. Back to me!”

    Don't expect the book to contain any of the scenes from the TV show – Red doesn't put a used tampon in a breakfast muffin, or get her staff to starve Piper. You still see Pennsatucky, Red and Big Boo and the other inmates you'll know from the TV show, just under different monikers.

    Piper in the TV show starts off like a scared little mouse, but manages to claw her way up the social ladder in prison by using her wits. Piper in the book just remains the same way she did when she arrived for her incarceration. You never, ever get the sense that she learned anything from her experience aside from learning that sanitary towels can be used in a variety of ways.

    She's also quite judgemental and horrible in the book. Big Boo is referred to as a 'bulldyke', which isn't really a word a cis woman like Piper ought to be using to describe a lesbian. You could have said she was a bullish, heavy-set woman, and mentioned her sexuality elsewhere (if it really needed to be brought up), rather than going straight for the slur.

    Some of the white girls are referred to as 'Eminemlettes'. Let's look at how they're introduced, shall we?

    (47%)

    Yeah, that's not actually a funny observation. And giving them that Eminem-based nickname, considering that Eminem has quite a few songs featuring heavy violence towards women? I have two rare birds of the Middle Finger genus I'd like to show the author.

    There's also somebody referred to as 'bipolar Colleen.' No, seriously, our introduction to her is to slap her with her mental illness. She's not a person at all, she's just a mental disorder!

    Speaking of mental illness...

    (61%)

    I think that extract speaks for itself, don't you?

    To add to the uncomfortable homophobia, judgemental attitude and mentalism, we get some subtle transphobia. Fans of the TV show will know Sophia, a transwoman in the prison who proves to be a very valuable friend to Piper and who quickly became one of my favourite characters for how well-written and charming she was.

    Let's see how book!Piper depicts Sophia (named Vanessa in the book).

    (62%)

    See that? She's only almost a woman through Piper's eyes. She's too tall and fake-looking to be a woman, and it doesn't matter that Vanessa identifies as a woman and has worked to make her gender identity line up with her outside appearance, she'll never quite be a woman, according to Piper's narration here. Excuse me while I go chuck something at the wall.

    (62%)

    Note the use of the 'shim' slur there. The description of Vanessa being a prissy, attention-seeking diva. Piper makes her sound like a theatrical drag queen as opposed to a woman born into the wrong sex. It's transphobia, and it's really gross to read. In fact, she refers to Vanessa later as being 'drag queen funny',

    If it was supposed to be funny, then, no. It's not.

    So, what about the rest of the book? Honestly, it's really not that much of a riveting read. This is honestly a case where the producers of the TV show sewed a silk purse out of a sow's ear, because the book does nothing with the premise we're given. Piper just makes observations, occasionally harks to some sociological data and societal differences she's noticed, but it's done in such an offhanded and dismissive way. I was actually craving for there to be references and studies listed in the back, like in Nancy Jo Sales' The Bling Ring. (Even though that book is arguably just as judgemental and dismissive as this is.)

    You're basically reading the biography of a rich white girl whose time in prison was basically spent making friends with everyone, having a great link to the outside world (seriously, she has a job in marketing at her friend's company just waiting for her when she's let out), getting fit in the prison's (admittedly meagre) exercise facilities, and enjoying her jobs in the construction and the electrical shop. It didn't really live up to my expectations, and it turned what was a really enjoyable TV series into dull drudge that did nothing with its premise nor treated the characters as individuals. They're just cardboard cut-outs that occasionally come into Piper's line of sight every now and again. Rather than developing them, Kerman just goes straight for the one word label (which is preferably a slur) she can refer to them as so that the audience know just what kind of 'oddballs' they are, because prison is just full of deviants, right?

    There's no warmth whatsoever in this novel. Occasionally Piper makes an amusing observation about prison life, but the rest of the biography is delivered in such a myopic and unsympathetic fashion that I really struggled to understand just how such a fun TV series could come from such a boring biography that had no right to be anywhere near as dull as it was.

    2/5.

    (This review is also available on my blog:

    )

  • Barb

    I really wanted to give this a better review, because I love it on Netflix.

    Maybe I would have liked it better if I hadn't seen the show first.

    Basically, I felt like this story lacked depth, was repetitive and quite often felt phoney. I was annoyed by the constant reminders that Piper's blue eyes and blonde hair made her life pretty easy, and that her inclusion with the "popular" crowd (aka: Pop's friends) got her lots of perks. Characters were underdeveloped and there was no real flow. Oh, and d

    I really wanted to give this a better review, because I love it on Netflix.

    Maybe I would have liked it better if I hadn't seen the show first.

    Basically, I felt like this story lacked depth, was repetitive and quite often felt phoney. I was annoyed by the constant reminders that Piper's blue eyes and blonde hair made her life pretty easy, and that her inclusion with the "popular" crowd (aka: Pop's friends) got her lots of perks. Characters were underdeveloped and there was no real flow. Oh, and don't get me started on unrealistic dialogue.

    I feel like this review is more of an endorsement for the show than anything. What Netflix has done is take a very mediocre framework and build something utterly fantastic on it. I'm sure they're paying Piper Kerman dearly for the rights to her story, but I feel like

    should be paying

    .

  • Angie

    So, I read the reviews and people in the "dislike" camp are right. It's a memoir, so it's about

    experience. The author's well off and a WASP and she had it

    easy in prison what with all the letters, books and visits she received from family and friends. There are no major conclusions about the sociology of her experience nor are there calls to action on ways for people to address any of the many things prison does not do for society. But I repeat, it is a

    .

    What we get is a l

    So, I read the reviews and people in the "dislike" camp are right. It's a memoir, so it's about

    experience. The author's well off and a WASP and she had it

    easy in prison what with all the letters, books and visits she received from family and friends. There are no major conclusions about the sociology of her experience nor are there calls to action on ways for people to address any of the many things prison does not do for society. But I repeat, it is a

    .

    What we get is a look at what prison did to a healthy, sane woman, written in a clear, grammatically correct and engaging, storytelling style. We get the psychological journey and it is enough to make me never want to go to jail, because even though she exited unscathed when compared to other prisoners, she still had a horrid experience. It is up to the reader to flex those mental muscles, to practice a little empathy and draw the connections to the question of "what if Piper were one of the other ones?"

    For example, the author describes the experience of exiting the prison system: The lack of communication of what she could expect, the return-to-society "training" she was required to take, the description of having to give away all her things and leave dressed in one set of clothes that weren't even hers, with nothing in her pocket but the $28.50* she'd earned in prison work. She was crazed, became paranoid and scared because she was being released in a city thousands of miles from her family. And

    was an educated woman who had someone coming to pick her up.

    She told her story. It is my job to make connections to the appropriateness of jail and other forms of revenge and punishment that are socially acceptable in our civilization. To educate myself about programs written about in Shorris's

    and

    .

    .

    I liked this book. I think it is important because as an educated woman, I can relate. I can see myself in her shoes. And

    is the power of this book- to get people who wouldn't think that it could ever happen to them to see that it has happened to people like them. And maybe getting me to see myself in those shoes will get me to reflect how we as a society punish law breaking.

    *I made that number up.


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