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I had two reasons to read this book: 1 – I’d just finished binge-watching the first series of the Netflix show of the same name, and 2 – I used to work in a prison.

I loved the TV show. I thought it was something new and a bit different. I was keen, when I found out it was based on a ‘true story’ to read a bit more about it.

This autobiographical account of the incarceration of Piper Kerman is an essential read.

I strongly suspected that the book was going to be a lot less sensational than the show. I was right. There aren’t half as many wild stories in the book as even one episode of the show. The show is clearly ‘inspired by…’ but far from being straight lifted from the pages.

And this is a good thing. What the book lacks in sensationalism, it more than makes up for with insight, wit, and conscience.

Piper is not an instantly likeable character. She comes across initially as being a bit precious. Spoilt, even. Her perfect life, though, is brought back down to earth with a bump when the mistakes of her past come back to not only haunt her, but place her in jail.

The concept of ‘self surrender’ is strange to me, as someone who knows only the UK systems. However the time in which Kerman knows she is going to jail is spent carrying out meticulous research and planning on ‘how to survive’. What follows is a fascinating glimpse into what must be a terrifying prospect – being sent to the big house when you live on the ‘right’ side of the tracks.

There is a strong feeling of ‘there but for the grace of god’ throughout this book. I know I made mistakes in my twenties, as most do. It’s easy to forget that Kerman’s mistake wasn’t a drunken indiscretion or a momentary lapse – she was well aware of her role in a life-destroying industry. This is addressed later on in the book, and I certainly ended it wanting to know more about the author and having a lot of respect for her.
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VINE VOICEon 19 September 2013
Anyone spending any time online during 2013 will have struggled not to notice a TV series called 'Orange is the New Black', which was the most viewed show commissioned by Netflix (a comedy filmed by Lionsgate) during the year. I had a holiday coming up as autumn approached and for a whole bunch of reasons went straight for Piper Kerman's original book, on which the TV series was based. Which for the sake of clarity will make you smile but unlike the show isn't written for laughs.

Piper Kerman comes from a middle-class family, is smart, well educated, is a pretty blond with blue eyes and possessed of a love for male and female partners. She also has an irresistible bohemian itch that leads her on all kinds of adventures and ultimately to jail.

During her mid-twenties she couriered drugs money as a favour and to pay a debt to a long term partner. She was arrested for the crime years later, when the drug syndicate collapsed and her ex-partner gave her name up as part of a deal. More than half a decade after being found guilty and being sentenced, Piper finally ends up in jail. The main focus of the story covers her thirteen months in jail.

The quality of the novel is that most educated, relatively law abiding citizens, will relate to Piper. She is a largely innocent everywoman, catapulted into the American penal system. And before anyone gets bent out of shape on the question of innocence - if you see this modern world in the black and white of right and wrong, the good and bad, then read on, this book might open your eyes.

Aside from the sincerity and lightness of touch in Piper's writing, the human story is what shines through. Piper waves away her fiancee and middle-class life, some ten years after her freely admitted crime, and goes from citizen to con, keeping her head down and trying to stay out of trouble. As she eases into life inside we meet a wide number of characters and rather than the violence you might expect, we are treated to people trying their best to deal with an inhumanity inflicted on them by the system, the size of the system and the futility of jailing people who have few choices in life but to return to that life. It is the interaction of the characters and Piper's enigmatic attempts to deal with these new experiences and the people who change her, that makes this such a captivating read.

The last time I read a book that felt this honest and insightful was Belle de Jour, for completely different reasons. There is a very compelling and perceived sincerity in the detail of every page that doesn't sensationalise the reality. The focus here is on the human, a very female story, captivating for its raw honesty.

Orange is the New Black is a rare book that has you experience the story, laugh and cry with the characters. We turn the last page grateful it wasn't us but also better for the shared experience.

Very highly recommended. I hope this review was helpful.
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on 2 August 2013
I am British so my comments are as an outsider.

This book is one that once you start reading it you cannot put down. It can be challenging at times, There are characters in here, most of them prison staff, for whom it is difficult to feel any sympathy but we must remember that they are victims of an insane and underfunded system too.

After reading this it is difficult not to view the system as broken.
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on 25 July 2013
If you enjoyed the Netflix series, you will love the book just as much. Piper Kerman's writing has captured the same story lines and emotions that it just as enjoyable to read as it is to watch the series. Very humorous, and not a huge amount varies from the programme.

A must have!
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on 29 December 2016
When there so much hype surrounding a book there's always a chance it's going to not live up to it and although on the whole it's a good book, I didn't find it outstanding. I do think this probably works better as a TV series than a book. Fairly predictable and in all honestly I felt like the author probably had a pretty good experience as far as prison sentences go, a full year inside and no serious issues. An ok read.
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4.5 stars

I've never seen the TV series, but it is the reason I read this. My husband is a big fan and I was interested enough to want to know the 'true' story of a woman's incarceration.

If you are wanting to read it, expecting the same characters and plots as the TV show, be ready to be disappointed. As my other half tells me, none of that is in the book.

Which was fine by me. I found this pretty fascinating anyway - a story of Piper's youthful misadventures, illegal drugs experiences leading her a decade later to self-surrender and to spend a year and a half in her thirties in a women's prison.

She's not your typical prisoner, which is probably why I found it so interesting - a loving fiancee waiting for her, books delivered to her regularly - could be me, could be people I know. This boiled down to: this could be me if I'd made a stupid mistake. How would I cope? What would I experience?

A supporting cast of colourful inmates and guards surround Piper as she at first keeps her head down and later learns to trust and value friendship in prison. Being a UK resident as well, seeing the inside of America's prisons was also enlightening. Their job programmes, the 'cliques', food, shops, facilities.

This audio version accompanied me on several jogs. Though I occasionally realised I was forgetting who was who in the prison, I really enjoyed listening to Piper's account of her incarceration, how she is treated, the unceremonious end to it all, her gradual realisation of the gravity of her crime and how it affected other people.

Honest and an entertaining read. Just not the TV show.
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on 27 August 2014
Synopsis

After finishing college, Piper Kerman started having adventures. She took off with her lover Nora, she jumped off cliffs, basically started living a reckless existence. Piper Kerman had little regard for the conventional rules when she was young and having fun. This unfortunately led to a one time drug money trafficking situation which came back to haunt her nearly ten years after the event.

Piper Kerman was incarcerated for 15 months. It was during those fifteen months (and with the help and love of her fellow inmates) that Kerman really began to truly understand what it means to live.

Review

I have to admit, my sole reason for reading this book is that I am desperate to watch the television series and since I have a weird OCD rule about not watching films or TV shows based on books before reading them, Orange is the New Black did get boosted up the TBR pile. Also, my aunty Susie was pretty insistent that I read and watch so she had someone to discuss the series with.

I think, like most people, I went into this book believing one thing about prisoners. People in the big house are bad. They have committed a crime and now they are doing time as a punishment. What I didn’t expect was the level of empathy and warmth I felt towards Kerman and her fellow inmates. Sure, the story was told with the perspective of a prisoner so it was unlikely that Kerman would be unnecessarily demonise her prison colleagues, however, what did become apparent is that, like Kerman herself, a lot of the women she shared prison life with were just victims of their own circumstance. Furthermore, they were the victims of a judicial system that doesn’t rehabilitate inmates to the best level.

However, Kerman does not bemoan her station in life; she doesn’t wallow in self pity and expect everyone to feel sorry for her. She knows the part she played in her incarceration and she owns it with honesty, balls and quite frankly a level of integrity that we should all aspire to have.

What Kerman manages to do so very excellently within Orange is the New Black is to raise awareness of the prison system in America, highlighting its very obvious flaws whilst respectfully understanding that she did commit a crime and acknowledging that she should pay for her sins. Hopefully the work that Piper Kerman has done since then – with this book amongst other things – will help to garner future reform for prisoners in the future.

Now, how do I download series one from NetFlix?

For more information on Piper Kerman please visit www.piperkerman.com
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on 7 November 2014
Watched the TV series and thought I'd buy the book. It's not as good as the show, has much more of an Eat Pray Love self-helpy feel to it, and is a bit self-congratulatory in places. Still interesting but less of a story, more of a documentary/biography. You get less background on the other women than in the series as well, though it's fun learning about the real people the show is based on.
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on 22 March 2017
So, I haven’t watched the show yet, but I’ve heard so much good stuff about it that I think I got my hopes up way too high for the book. Maybe 2 stars was a little harsh, because I did think it was well written and I found the subject matter interesting. However, I just didn’t like the narrator and had a hard time relating to her (despite her being small, blonde, blue-eyed, educated, runner, etc.). I think she was trying so hard not to sound whiny and condescending that she came across as whiny and condescending. The repeated “I can’t believe that someone that looks like you would be in prison” got really old. I mean, she’s not the first white girl to go to jail......
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on 20 October 2014
Having absolutely loved the TV series, I thought this book would be a really interesting read. I was wrong. Gave up halfway through as Piper Kerman comes off as a very self-involved, bland writer. How they managed to make such an entertaining series out of such a dull book I will never know!
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