Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Five: Upcoming YA

I just finished reading Allegiant by Veronica Roth. If you’ve maybe been hiding under a rock for the past few years, Allegiant is the third installment in Roth’s Divergent trilogy, a thrilling series set in a dystopian Chicago where all citizens are separated into factions based on their most prevalent personality traits. Aside from causing a seemingly endless stream of tears, reading Allegiant has also gotten me thinking about what other books I’m most looking forward to, particularly in the young adult genre. So here are my most anticipated young adult books to be released (in order of release date, of course!):

All of these books are sequels or, I guess, pseudo-sequels in the case of Isla and the Happily Ever After. It’s just so easy to get caught up in young adult series nowadays. They tend to be fast-paced, exciting, and romantic - a perfect storm to get readers wanting more. It’s hard to say which of these titles I’m MOST excited for, but if forced, I would probably choose Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray, the second book in The Diviners series. The Diviners was released in September 2012  and follows spunky teenager Evie O’Neill as she is sucked into a world of murder, evil, and supernatural abilities in 1920s New York City. I'm really excited to see what happens in Lair of Dreams after Evie goes public with her supernatural ability.

The first releases I'm looking forward to are in January of next year which seems too far off. I can't imagine waiting for August!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Page and Screen: Orange is the New Black

Warning: This post contains some mild spoilers for both the book and TV show Orange is the New Black!

Like most people with an Internet connection and a pulse, I marathoned the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black when it was released in August. The series follows Piper Chapman, a white upper middle-class New Yorker sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for a ten-year-old drug offense. Through Piper’s eyes, we enter a world that is largely unfamiliar to most watchers. In this world, a leftover ice cream cone is the catalyst for an all-out brawl, sanitary pads are used for everything from cleaning to makeshifting shower shoes, and ex-lovers appear at the absolute worst possible moment. But in Litchfield Prison, Piper also finds something unexpected--friendship with women from all walks of life...and a few enemies too. 

Unsurprisingly, Orange is the New Black is based on a book - the bestselling memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman. I had previously heard of the book and thought it sounded interesting, but after watching the show, I had to get my hands on a copy. I knew that the show couldn’t have been adapted too faithfully from the book, but I was surprised at just how much had been changed and added for TV. The book isn’t about one-liners or catfights. Although it made me smile a few times, it wasn't a funny book. Kerman's memoir is about a privileged white woman's journey through the prison system and the truly life-changing experiences she encounters there.

What You Can Expect from Orange is the New Black: The TV Series
  • Comedy. I laughed out loud at OITNB more times than I can count. My friends are in the habit of throwing one-liners from the show out in everyday conversation (and by everyday I mean every conversation we have every day). One memorable scene shows Nikki comforting Alex in the law library, patting her head and saying, “There’s always hope tomorrow’ll be taco night.” But Taystee pops her head out from around a nearby shelf and yells, “Tomorrow’s beef and noodles!” Pennsatucky’s ruminations on same-sex relations are hilariously backwards: “She a lesbian. They lesbianing together,” she says solemnly. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Unexpected sympathy. Probably my favorite thing about OITNB is how well-rounded and intensely human the characters are. Through strategic flashbacks, we see background stories for characters that might otherwise be looked over. It’s in these retrospectives that we learn about Sophia’s experiences before and during her sex-change operation and what led her to commit credit card fraud. Likewise, we see the stern Miss Claudette murder a man who abused a young girl employed in her cleaning company. These flashbacks lend real depth to the women in Litchfield Prison and keep them from being just numbers to us.
  • Drama. Drama. Drama. Yes, it’s worth saying three times. For all the laughs we get from the ladies locked up in Litchfield, there are just as many instances of anger, heartache, backstabbing, and sadness. Unexpected pregnancies, violence, death, star-crossed romance, and family are just a few of the dramatic avenues explored in OITNB. But these more serious storylines are rarely over-the-top and perfectly balance the show's comedic moments.

What You Can Expect from Orange is the New Black: The Book
  • Piper. This book is very much a memoir - it’s personal. Rather than getting much back story on the minor characters, we almost exclusively see Piper’s point of view throughout her sentence. This doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything about the other prisoners. Kerman adds in details often about her fellow inmates’ sentences and crimes. But the personal stories of other prisoners were either fictionalized or embellished for the show. Although Piper is the main character on the OITNB show, she often comes off as selfish and flaky. We get a different impression of her when reading from her perspective. Piper is both scared and smart, selfish and selfless, but she really, truly cares about her friends in prison and works to improve their lives.
  • Commentary on prison and the criminal justice system. Piper Kerman isn’t angry that she’s in prison; she understands that she committed a crime and must face the consequences. But she doesn’t agree with the prison system as a whole: its unhelpful prerelease classes meant to reintegrate inmates into the outside, the lack of useful classes for further education, the pointless rules. Kerman notes that the real lesson she learned in prison was from living and working with the women who may have hypothetically been affected by her crime. She notes, “Our current criminal justice system has no provision for restorative justice, in which an offender confronts the damage they have done and tries to make it right to the people they have harmed. (I was lucky to get there on my own, with the help of the women I met.) Instead, our system of ‘corrections’ is about arm’s-length revenge and retribution, all day and all night. Then its overseers wonder why people leave prison more broken than when they went in.” And there's more where that came from.
  • Community. Piper Kerman survives her prison sentence not because of her own will power or strength but because of the women she meets there. At first she's only approached by other white women who provide her with personal hygiene items, well wishes, and advice. But soon she finds herself safely within a network of women of varied backgrounds, personalities, and uncertain futures. These women support each other endlessly: Piper proof-reads her fellow inmates' letters for appeal, Pop gives advice to anyone in need, Yoga Janet provides a relaxing and constructive space in her yoga classes. They plan elaborate parties for each other's birthdays, make prison-crafted gifts for special occasions, and lend each other a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. These women are alone, save for each other, and they express their solidarity and support whenever possible. As a mild-mannered prisoner is taken to solitary confinement, her fellow inmates openly express their disdain for the prison's decision. Kerman writes, "One of the lieutenant's goons cuffed her, not that gently, and the buzz among the women surged to a low roar. Then Sheena started to chant: 'Ali-ice, Al-ice, Al-ice, Al-ice, Al-ice!' as they led the little pacifist away. I had never seen prison guards look scared before." In these moments we see just how much these women need each other.

The Verdict

I was surprised how different Piper Kerman's memoir was from the show I had watched. The show was addicting, funny, and heart wrenching. The book, however, presented a quite somber look at life in a women's prison. It wasn't an "unputdownable" book; in fact, it took me three or four weeks to finish. But I found it to be enlightening, engaging, and fascinating to read the "real" Piper's take on her prison sentence. Many elements of the book were included in the show, but the writers took great liberties with the more dramatic and humorous moments. Overall, I enjoyed both the book and TV show. But if you're looking for something easy and engrossing, check out the Orange is the New Black show on Netflix. If you're more interested in a realistic look at prison, try reading Kerman's memoir.