Friday, 21 August 2015

I Read... Orange is the New Black

So I realize that people are absolutely obsessed with the Netflix TV series Orange is the New Black.  I am not one of those people.  I watched the first episode with my husband and we both wondered what the heck had just happened.  Neither of us were drawn in.  I haven't given up, but there are several shows ahead of OITHB on my TV list.

The novel Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman's Prison by Piper Kerman, however, took absolutely no time for me to get into.  It drew me in right away and I read it in no time flat.  I think that it is a combination of two factors that made the story so interesting to me: 1- this is a world so far removed from my own life that I was interested in learning more.  Piper describes her life as a young woman and how she became involved in a drug smuggling ring.  Years later, she describes her time serving a one year sentence in a woman's prison in great detail.  The two worlds that she describes in these scenarios is so opposed to my day to day life as a mom and teacher that I couldn't help but get sucked in.  I found it fascinating to read about the life choices that the author made along her journey and how she reacted to the consequences of her actions. 2- The piece of Piper's life that is described in between her life of crime and her time in prison is so normal that it makes her easy to relate to.  You start to imagine that you could find yourself in Piper's shoes.  After putting a life of crime behind her, Piper starts to live a normal life.  She gets a normal job, finds a normal man to fall in love with and completely moves on from the days that she spent involved in the drug trade.  While other members of the drug ring are being put on trial years later, Piper's name comes up and she is surprised to find herself arrested for crimes that she had all but forgotten.  The process of telling her family and friends about her past and the combination of fear and stoicism that she displays as she prepares to enter the women's prison make it easy to put yourself in Piper's shoes.  While I have not committed any crimes in my past, I still found myself wondering what my life would be like if some piece of my past suddenly reared its ugly head and took over.

This juxtaposition between this could never happen to me and wait, maybe something like this could happen to me is what makes this memoir so easy to read.  It turns Orange is the New Black from a prison story to a coming of age story, one where the protagonist has to overcome hardships in order to better understand who she is.  The fact that the author was able to create this sense in a book about going to prison is pretty remarkable, and it makes me understand why Netflix would choose to develop a TV series based on the novel.

I do intend to watch the TV series at some point because I'm curious about several things- how closely does the show follow the book?  Do we get the sense that Piper is caught between her wild past and her "good girl" future?  How much of a role does her support system outside of prison (boyfriend, parents, etc.) play?  And, most pressing to me, how does the series continue on when Piper spent a year in prison and was then released?  Doesn't the show have to come to an end at some point?

Food for thought... have any of your favourite books been adapted successfully to the TV or movie screen?  What do you think made the transition work?  

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