Non-Fiction Nagging: Orange is the New Black

After watching the Netflix show Orange is the New Black I became curious about the memoir and added it to my already long wishlist. When the blog Love at First Book announced they were hosting a virtual book club featuring it I decided to move it to the top and participate. From the very first few pages I was shocked at the differences between the series and book.

I'm not intending to put any spoilers in here, since it's a real story and she's done a lot of press, but if you plan on reading it or watching and want to be 100% surprised you may want to avoid the rest of this post. 

For those unfamiliar with the story, Piper Kerman was a typical affluent white girl- she went to Smith, graduated, and decided she didn't know what she wanted to be now that she was grown up. She was clear on one thing, though, and that was that she wanted adventure. Oh, adventure. It's so easy to want adventure post-college when it doesn't appear you have any more financial obligations than the typical day-to-day. Kerman gets involved with a woman named Nora (how cliche- "adventure" equating with sexual experimentation), who is a pretty important cog in a global drug smuggling operation (Nora is Alex on the show). Kerman eventually starts working for Nora, but after awhile decides she's had enough and cuts ties.

Fast-forward several years in the future. Kerman is seriously dating Larry (change of vagina heart*, I suppose) and living in New York, happily going about her business. And then all of the sudden she's being taken in on charges related to her past. Fast forward six years- she finally ends up going to jail, Larry, now her fiancee, by her side. That's right- for years she had to live her life, waiting for the day the government got all their ducks in a row with the case (it involved many people) and could prosecute.

The majority of the memoir talks about everyday prison life- the psychological aspect, the social infrastructure, and the politics. She mentions her fellow inmates, but doesn't delve into lengthy back stories, as the show does. Eventually, close to her release date, she is transferred via Con Air to Chicago where she has to testify as a witness for the government. Her time after leaving Danbury is a bit rougher- she's lonely, bored, and uninformed about her future. 

The differences between the book and show were astounding. Nora, her ex-girlfriend, doesn't make an appearance until the end, where they are held together before testifying. Kerman doesn't cheat on Larry, nor does he write a scandalous article about their relationship. A guard doesn't get anyone pregnant, Kerman doesn't get blackballed on her first day there for talking about the food, and she doesn't beat the shit out of anyone. She actually has no conflicts at all, and is never locked up in the SHU. Readers aren't made privy to extensive back stories of other prisoners and and you never find yourself getting attached to them, either (like I was with Crazy Eyes and even Tasty). I understand why they made the changes they did- the memoir does not read like a movie or TV show. In order to keep the episodes flowing they had to introduce conflict and ensure that the viewers were invested in more characters besides just Kerman. I was still surprised that the changes were as extensive as they were.

I really despise Kerman on the show- I find her unsympathetic, stupid, and dishonest. She's a bit more likable in the book- she fully accepts responsibility for her actions and isn't nearly as desperate as the Piper on the show. She also doesn't cheat on Larry. I'm still not her biggest fan; she knowingly committed a serious crime AND somehow forgot to tell her serious boyfriend. Massive loss of respect in my book. 

I found Orange is the New Black an interesting look at prison life and a quick read. If anything, it will make you question whether or not you could survive in prison!

*Obligatory "I love the gays and hope they can all get married soon" comment to counteract the two jokes I made. Seriously. Jokes.


  1. I just bought this as audiobook last week, I'm so excited to listen to it! I loved the show so I hope it's as good as I think it will be. Glad you liked it :)

  2. I just finished reading it yesterday and while I really liked the book I still think of it as Piper kind of participating in a social experiment! I do appreciate that she's working now towards better conditions in prison for women, though!

  3. I have read alot about her book and will definetly to buying it and start reading before the end of this year.. Most Probably in holiday season.