Friday, August 22, 2014

TV show vs. Memoir: Orange is the New Black book review, by Piper Kerman

She led me out the door Larry had just exited from, turning right and walking along that vicious, towering fence. The fence had multiple layers; between each layer was a gate through which we had to be buzzed. She opened the gate, and I stepped in. I looked back over my shoulder at the free world. The next gate buzzed. I stepped through again, wire mesh and barbed metal soaring all around me. I felt fresh, rising panic. This was not what I had expected. This was not how minimum-security camps had been described; this didn't look at all like "Club Fed." This was scaring the crap out of me.

I recently became addicted to started watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, and I was curious to see how different the memoir, which had inspired the show, is from the TV series. The verdict is that it's quite different, but you can tell from the book which characters have been adapted for the TV show and which relationships are solely fiction, which was definitely interesting. [the prison relationship between Piper and Alex Vause, for instance - whose name is Nora in the book - is completely fictional]

Taylor Schilling (Piper Chapman on OITNB) and
Piper Kerman, the real Piper
Official synopsis:
With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.

For the OITNB uninitiated: Piper Kerman (Chapman, in the show) helped her then-girlfriend, Nora, smuggle drugs into the U.S. She only did this a handful of times, then wised up to what she was doing and fled back to San Francisco. Ten years later, the police showed up at her door and her past finally caught up with her; she's sentenced to 15 months in minimum-security prison, which turns into 13 months for good behavior.

Some of the main differences I noticed (see picture above) were interesting; the TV show basically just took the bare bones of the book and ran with it. "Alex Vause" in the show is called "Nora" in the book, but her real name is Catherine Cleary Wolters, and she's publishing a book in May 2015 called Out of Orange, which supposedly brings her side of the story to light. "Nora" and Piper never saw each other in prison because they were in different prisons, and they only see each other after Piper is transferred to Chicago to await a trial for one of her "accomplices," a man that Nora worked with but that Piper never met.

Some of the other major differences are:

  • Larry, Piper's fiancee, is caring and always there for her in the memoir; in the TV show, not so much. 
  • Piper and Pennsatucky - same name in the book and the show - are friends, or at least acquaintances; in the show, they are enemies for quite a while. 
  • Red, who rules the prison kitchen with an iron fist, is called "Pop" in the book
  • "Nora" in the memoir has a sister, whom Piper calls by the nickname "Hester," and Piper is reunited with both of them in the Chicago prison; in the TV show, Piper and Nora/Alex are in the same prison together, and Nora/Alex doesn't have a sister.
  • If Piper has a best friend, she's not mentioned in the book; in the TV show, she has a minor, yet important, recurring role. 

If you haven't seen the TV show, I'd recommend reading this book, but if you have seen the TV show, I actually would not. It's an interesting read, and overall I enjoyed it, but I have to say that I enjoy the TV show more, probably because there's so much more drama going on in it.

3.5 stars out of 5.

To purchase Orange is the New Black, click here.


  1. I have not seen the show so a lot of this didn't make sense to me because I don't know the characters.

    1. What is interesting to me, though, is just that a lot of names/details were changed, the bare bones of the book stayed - the first name Piper, etc.

  2. I've heard great things about this program!

  3. Ohhh everyone has told me to start watching this show- I had no idea it was a book first! Maybe I'll have to check out the book and then the show to see the differences!

    1. I didn't know it was a book either until someone told me about it!

  4. Wow, I never knew there were so many adaptive changes between the literature and this show! I've just started watching the show, so I will have to look into the books.

    1. Yes, I didn't either - always interesting to read the book that a TV show or movie is based on.

  5. Although I don't really like this show it's nice to know others enjoy it

  6. I haven't seen the show but keep reading about it online. I had no idea it was based on a book! My husband would be embarrassed by some of the things on the show (just from what I've seen online) so the book would probably be a better option for me.

    1. Yes - it's definitely not a show I watch w/ my parents. :)

  7. I have seen every episode of the show and love it. I need to read the book now, too.

  8. I've been hearing so many good things about the show & the book... Maybe I'll have to actually check it out finally.

  9. I watched the first season. Now I need to read the book!

  10. Such interesting contrasts. Thanks for sharing! I love the TV series.



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