Orange Is the New Black

OITNBAuthor: Piper Kerman

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (2010)

When the TV show incarnation of this book was released last summer on Netflix, this became my new obsession. The first episode was okay but the ensemble cast kept me invested. Piper Chapman was this privileged white chick in low security prison who was seduced by money and everything that came with it. All of her choices on the show made me want to punch her.

When I learned this show was based on a book, I ran off and picked it up. The book was a quick read and Vastly different from the show in so many ways. The TV show took the most interesting moments and sections from the book and twisted them for entertainment value (which is the case with most books made into movies and/or TV shows). Since the show starts up again next month (I.Am.Very.Excited!), I decided to do a compare and contrast of both media.

Names: Piper Kerman, Piper Chapman

Husband (whoops, spoiler alert!): Larry does have his piece published in the Modern Times section of the New York Times but it’s Nothing like the version heard on the show. See the original article here.

Ex-Girlfriend: She doesn’t really do time with her, as depicted on the show. What’s completely excluded is the fact that the ex-girlfriend and sister were the ones who started working in the drug trade and that’s how Piper became involved. Piper encounters the both of them before she is released in a holding prison until the inmates receive their new assignments. Piper is on her way out while the sisters were being moved to another prison elsewhere. While Piper was seething with anger when she saw her (not so much the sister), she ignored her but then they did become somewhat chummy but mostly cordial throughout the remaining time Piper had there.

Characters: Crazy Eyes was Latina, a lesbian, and actually Piper was firm about her not being interested and Crazy Eyes left her alone. No beef. Red had another name. Natasha Lyonne’s character also had another name. But Pornstache was real!! He eventually was fired or transferred to another prison so there wasn’t that much of a story there. I love his incarnation on the show. The actor who plays him is brilliant! The militant Caribbean woman on the show wasn’t that mean in the book. Oh and her counselor? Everything he said to her at the beginning on the show was taken straight from the book. That was true. Pennsatucky and Piper were actually friends, not enemies like on the show.

What I gleaned from Piper’s experience is that even with the self-segregation (or more so, how they were assigned), these women did the best they could to be there for one another because they didn’t have anyone else in jail.

There are many reader reviews stating how much Piper was annoying and self-absorbed throughout the novel. I saw a person who was doing the best she could under her circumstances. The fact that she was a white woman who wasn’t “white trash” and was educated allowed her to have a better time than others while being incarcerated. Additionally, at the end of the book, she concluded with how hard it was for women to be assimilated into society due to their incarceration and how she wouldn’t have that same difficulty. She provides a list of resources for readers to assist people get back into the world after prison. She’s also on the board of Women’s Prison Association to assist those in need.

I think what bothered me the most about this book (the writing was good enough to make me empathize with her somewhat) is if a person of color were writing this book, would it have been as popular and that worthy of turning into a TV show or movie? I wonder if there are any books written by people of color who discuss being incarcerated. If so, please, provide me with some examples in the comments. This was my biggest peeve. It was a good read though. For lovers of the show, take out the book to see the influences and source material for such a rich and deliciously entertaining TV show.

For your enjoyment, a trailer for the upcoming second season!!


2 thoughts on “Orange Is the New Black

  1. Thank you for this – I’ve been meaning to read the book and see how similar/different it is. I also love the show, but I often wonder what’s “true” and what’s not. Now I’ll definitely have to read the book…

    1. Sure thing! I saw the show first and then read the book. Both media bring something different to the table for this story. The show has a phenomenal diverse cast of mostly women (which I love) that can be added to television history. Piper’s memoir highlights how women take care of each other even in the most awful situations.

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