Spiegel & Grau | 2010
I, like most people with a Netflix account and a pulse, love the Orange in the New Black tv series. And it just so happens that the new season premieres this week!
I picked this book up for that reason alone – I was curious about the real story after binging the current season in 13 hours.
Consider me a fan of the TV show, only.
Where the show excels is in the treatment of each and every woman – their individual lives are honoured, never discounted or treated as the token bit player to Piper’s privileged white girl. They are real and honest and palpable. All walks of life given equal value, time and courtesy.
But this book was…not that.
It came across as such: I’m just a white girl who made one mistake. What an oopsie-doopsie to get involved with drug dealers trafficking for an international drug ring. I didn’t mean to traffic drugs to other countries. Can’t you ever forgive me? Can’t you see how hard I tried to get my life back on track and stop being a lesbian? I met a nice boy, I got a good job and now I’m a productive citizen. Doesn’t that count for anything when the snitches open their big mouths and I end up in prison? No? Ok. I’m ever so scared of being in prison, but I won’t show it. I am a stoic warrior princess. I’ll bite my tongue and do my time surrounded by all these women of colour – some of them even like me even though I’m white. Blonde and white. Just call me ‘Blondie’ *wink*. The Latino girls say I have street smarts. All these ethnic ladies are actually really nice. And they’ve taught me so much about what it means to not be white. Which is totally fine with me, I promise. I consider so many of them friends, that when I left prison I was kind of sad to leave them all behind to continue doing their years and years of time after my measly 15 months. I felt bad.
The first season of OITNB really hit on this aspect of the novel. Piper Chapman is constantly saying some of the whitest shit you can imagine, and usually being called on it. Or at the very least being focused on in such a way that, we the audience, have an uncomfortable reaction to her behaviour.
This book was like that, except no one is calling Piper on her shit. She’s super earnest about the things she’s saying, including telling us how pretty she is. Everyone says so, you guys.
Not a lot happens in this book, it kind of feels like she pieced together a few stories and knew she could sell a book treatment on the premise “white college grad goes to prison for a decades-old crime.”
Worse still, from all those stories she waxes poetic on, Piper really doesn’t seem to learn much or grow as a person from her experiences around women different from her. Unlike the Piper on the show. Again, there is an obvious difference to me between the writing quality of the show and the character treatment, and this novel.
The ending was boring too.
Spoiler: She got out of prison and got rich.
When FBI agents knocked on her door to investigate a ten-year-old crime, Piper Kerman barely resembled the reckless young woman she was shortly after graduating Smith College.
Happily ensconced in a New York City apartment, with a promising career and an attentive boyfriend, she was suddenly forced to reckon with the consequences of her very brief, very careless dalliance in the world of drug trafficking a decade earlier.
Following a plea deal, she spent 15 months at “Club Fed”, the infamous women’s correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, where she not only gained a unique perspective on the criminal justice system, but also met a surprising and varied community of women living under exceptional circumstances.
In “Orange Is the New Black”, Piper Kerman tells the dramatic story of those long months under lockdown, in a place with its own codes of behavior and arbitrary hierarchies, where a practical joke is as common as an unprovoked fist fight, and where the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailer is constantly and unpredictably recalibrated.
Revealing, moving, and enraging, “Orange Is the New Black” is a bold and wholly original entry in the canon of prison literature.
*Migrated review, originally posted to Goodreads in June 2017