Book Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

orange is the new blackOne of the things that I love most about the book club I belong to is the huge diversity in books that I’ve been exposed to (my second favorite thing is the hilarious and wacky conversations that are largely off topic). Each month one of our members gets to select three books they’d like to read and then the group votes on the one that is most interesting to the majority of us. This means that we get a real peek into the reading habits of our members and get to broaden our horizons quite a bit when it comes to book choices.

Some of my favorite books that I read last year were book club picks that I might never have picked up otherwise. Books like These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang and now this month’s pick Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman are just some of the awesome books I’ve been exposed to thanks to my book club.

Our first pick of 2013 is all about one woman’s 13 month sentence in a women’s prison:

“When Piper Kerman was sent to prison for a ten-year-old crime, she barely resembled the reckless young woman she’d been when, shortly after graduating Smith College, she’d committed the misdeeds that would eventually catch up with her.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.

Kerman spent thirteen months in prison, eleven of them at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, where she met a surprising and varied community of women living under exceptional circumstances. In Orange Is the New Black, Kerman tells the story of those long months locked up in a place with its own codes of behavior and arbitrary hierarchies, where a practical joke is as common as an unprovoked fight, and where the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailer is constantly and unpredictably recalibrated.”

I have to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. The premise sounded potentially funny, inspiring, educational but also possibly depressing and disappointing and possibly boring since it’s nonfiction. Luckily for this month’s book club meeting, it definitely fell more into the funny, inspiring, educational side.

I thought this book was really interesting and well written. Not only do we get to read about her time in prison, but we also read about the facts of her life that brought her to her arrest as well as the lives of several of her fellow inmates. Being able to get that “fly on a wall” look at life inside a prison for a year was kind of cool. Kerman serves as a great narrator for this book as she seems like someone who gets along with pretty much anyone. She befriends a lot of different people and also makes for a narrator that is easy to relate to. It also probably kept her out of a lot of trouble during her imprisonment.

I also like that she takes the time to talk about all the times in her life that she could have asked for help or done something different – and the choices that she has made that brought her to her situation. It is the kind of book that you can learn a lot from without feeling like you are being preached at or lectured.This was a pretty fascinating book for me despite having no connection to the topic (or perhaps because of) but I think it would also be a useful and informative book for any woman who is facing imprisonment or knows somebody who is – or is planning to have a career as a prison guard, warden, lawyer, etc. Kerman saw a lot in her year in prison and she holds nothing back so there is a lot to learn within the pages of this funny and sassy peek into her experience.

Now was this the best written, most interesting book I’ve ever read? No, of course not – it won’t hold up in comparison to literary treats like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern of course, but I definitely found this book to be well written, interesting and a relatively easy to read – you can’t ask for much more than that!

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