Book: Orange is the New Black
Author: Piper Kerman
Review: After graduating from Smith College, Piper is looking for adventure. She finds it when she commences a relationship with Nora, an older woman who involved in drug trafficking. Piper travels around the world with Nora and her business associates/friends and participates in moving drug money around. Piper eventually breaks up with Nora and moves back to the states. Life is going well for Piper and her dedicated boyfriend (who knows nothing about her twirl in the drug world) when the feds show up and she finds out she is being charged with drug trafficking and money laundering. Piper is very lucky and is able to plead guilty and only get a year in prison. She is placed in minimal security prison in Danbury, CT.
This is a rare book that I didn't like yet it was a good book club selection. Why you ask? Because it sparked a lot of good discussion. I've never seen the show but several friends raved about how wonderful it was, so when I read this book I kept waiting for it to get good and it never happened.
Let's dig in...Piper wanted an adventure and her girlfriend point blank told her (up front!) she was in the drug business. Piper didn't flinch at this. Okay, for someone who didn't even dabble in drugs, seems odd she didn't question that at all. Then, while they are vacationing somewhere, Nora dares Piper to jump off a cliff and says she'll do it too. Piper jumps and Nora tells her she wouldn't have done it if Piper hadn't. Piper comments she should have known at that point not to trust Nora. Um...really Piper? That was the defining moment for you? And after Piper travels around with Nora and her crew essentially sponging off of them for months she is surprised when Nora wants her to be a drug mule. Frankly I'm surprised it took them that long to ask her to pull her weight.
When Piper's past catches up with her, she has to tell her boyfriend, family, friends and his family about her secret past. I imagine this was extremely tough for her but it seems very unrealistic that EVERY SINGLE PERSON she told basically said "Well, you were young. People make mistakes, it's okay, we are here for you." Really? No one said they were disappointed in her? Not one person? Maybe I'm shocked because I know my family would not be quite so supportive, but she apparently has the most amazing, dedicated, loving friends/family ever. She is also lucky she had money to hire a good lawyer because her sentence of one year was very short for what she plead guilty too.
Onto to her time in prison. I was expecting Piper to develop deep friendships with fellow inmates and learn about fellow inmates lives (this was based on comments I'd heard about the show). I was expecting corruption among the staff, drugs being smuggled in, fighting among the inmates, leaning about how being in prison affected Piper's relationship with her fiance. Maybe I've watched too many tv shows dramatizing prison because I was disappointed that the only time things became heated was over...prepare yourself...salad. No joke. Corruption is mentioned as things she heard had happened but none of it is in this book. In fact, for the most past, the prison staff seemed pretty professional and the inmates got along very well. Apparently it's a rule in prison that you only discuss how much time you are doing, not your crime. Some people may mention what they are in for, but there was not a lot of back story relating to her fellow inmates. In fact, there were a lot of side characters that came and went and it was difficult to keep track of them. Not that it mattered much. Everyone pretty much liked Piper. People tended to hang out with their racial groups but Piper was so cool she could hang with all of them. People were so nice they even greeted her on her first day with little supply gifts. Really, the whole building reminded me of my freshman door. They decorated for the holidays, did yoga daily (DAILY!) and Piper ran miles and miles around the track outside (DAILY!). She even had time to complain about the nice woodland creatures that she saw on the track. She had a job, but it was unclear what the hours were (seemed like she still had a lot of free time to do yoga and run). Her family kept her account stocked so she could buy stuff in the commissary and friends and family sent a constant stream of books (she actually complained she received the same newspaper or magazine twice). She had visitors every week during visitor hours. I realize her prison experience was atypical but it was also pretty boring to read. You may be wondering about Larry? That saint was there every week and there was ZERO TENSION between them. They stayed loyal to each other, no drama.
In terms of Piper taking accountability for her crime, yes she plead guilt but I never got the sense she really felt responsible. She mentions one time in the book that she never thought about people actually taking the drugs and getting addicted. She kept saying "10 year old crime" as if it mattered she hadn't been doing anything illegal the last 10 years. Yes, that's true that she wasn't a career criminal but she definitely broke the law and got off on an extremely light sentence. And when she is finally put in a tougher federal facility for a month before testifying (and then being released), she sees Nora and wants to know why she snitched on her.
Oh-and in case you didn't catch it, she's blond, pretty, smart and went to Smith. It's mentioned repeatedly throughout the book. The editor should have done a better job with those constant reminders. Finally, I would have loved one more chapter at the end to see how acclimating back to normal life was.