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My Review of Piper Kerman’s Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

Although the television adaptation of Orange is the New Black is now in its third season, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t gotten around to reading the source material until now.  That said, I had a great time comparing Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison to the critically acclaimed TV series of the same name.  I love how the two, although telling the same story, are at the same time still able to do so in a way that best fits the medium being used.

The story of how Piper ended up in prison is fairly straightforward: girl meets girl, girl falls in love with girl, girl turns out to be a criminal and uses the other girl to smuggle drugs and launder money for a Nigerian drug lord.  The real story begins, however, once Piper reaches the prison, and is also where the book and television adaptation diverge.  The book, told from a first-person perspective, is a character-driven piece that consists mainly of Piper’s observations about her reaction to the prison environment and its inhabitants, as well as musings on the prison system as a whole.  While she does describe her relationships with other inmates, they are less important to the story than her own reflections.

This stands in stark contrast to the television adaptation, where quiet reflection gives way to a plot-driven explosion of character growth and rich character interaction that range from the humorous to the deadly serious.  Another difference is that while the book does touch upon topics of gender, sex, and the racial and economic inequality of the U.S. prison system, the television adaptation makes these themes much more central to its story.  In fact, in a 2013 interview with NPR, the producer of the show Jenji Kohan went on record say that she had used Piper’s story as a “Trojan horse” since she was “not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women” but using Piper’s story as a starting point, she could “then expand the world and tell all of those other stories”.

In the end, while I prefer the TV adaptation of Piper Kerman’s Orange Is the New Black, if only for its ability to create a richer narrative through examining the various social and economic issues at play, I still greatly enjoyed the book.  It is a powerful, eye-opening examination of a life lived and how one can come overcome adversity.  While the show might not be for everyone, I would definitely recommend this title to people who enjoy quite, introspective stories of personal growth and discovery.  I would give Orange is the New Black a 7.6 out of 10.

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This entry was posted on February 18, 2015 by in Uncategorized.
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