Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison Review

Josh Madwed ’15
EE Contributor

Netflix’s original series, Orange is the New Black, has become a must watch, Emmy winning show. However, very few people know where the hit comedy’s plot was originated. Piper Kerman, who the character Piper Chapman is based, wrote and published her true tale in 2010 by the company Spiegel & Grau, three years before Netflix uploaded the first season. The book, officially named Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, helped Kerman win the Justice Trailblazer Award from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and has spawned a cult following…

Those who love the book are most likely drawn by its multiple mini-genres. Kerman’s novel is mainly comedic, yet still contains moments of romance, drama, and even has some tear jerking chapters. However, since the novel is told in first person from Kerman’s point of view, the genres transition fluently.

Overall, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison is an interesting story that was told in a very unclear manor. While reading this, I was constantly reminding myself that this was a professional work, not my sisters diary, because of how confusing the book was to read. Kerman constantly referenced characters that she spoke of briefly before. I found myself turning back pages to reread descriptions of characters that were mentioned for one, small moment. Kerman rarely elaborated about the setting or even how the prison system worked. Reviewer Sue Space agrees completely when she wrote, “But I was often frustrated with Kerman’s lack of details – I had no sense of how it was that she was free to just go do yoga or run around the track whenever she wanted, or what kind of hours she worked at her electric and construction jobs.” It felt like Kerman just wanted her story to get out as fast as possible and her writing style came second. However, the parts that I understood from the book were always entertaining and had me turning the pages aggressively, wanting to know what the prison drama was going to spring on me next.

The novel has a very unique storyline that helps keep the page turner aspects of the novel constant. In 1998, Piper Kerman was working in New York City and living a mundane life with her magazine editor boyfriend, Larry. Unexpectedly two police officers arrived at their door one morning, Kerman assumed it must have something to do with the apartment building. In fact, they were there to arrest her on conspiracy drug charges related to her role in a drug trafficking ring several years earlier. Kerman has to trade in her Sephora lip gloss for orange scrubs.

Kerman takes you on an emotional journey through the characters she meets. She explains the story behind each of her fellow prisoners, as well as gives the low down on which guards do their job and which harass inmates. The ending is where the story is its weakest. Kerman clearly doesn’t know what to do or how to end her novel, which leaves the reader with many questions about what’s next. All in all, I’d give Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison 3 out of 5 stars.

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