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YA is the new black

As we fans know, the Netflix original Orange Is the New Black is set in Litchfield Penitentiary, a federal prison for women in upstate New York. This prison is clearly underfunded. It’s falling apart. Its limited resources are being siphoned off by despicable assistant warden Fig. The sewers are backing up into the drains in the bathroom, and they can’t afford to fix it. As Caputo puts it, they can’t even afford two-ply toilet paper.

prison libraryUnsurprisingly, the books in the prison library all look old and dull. I’m guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of zero dollars allotted for the Litchfield library annual budget? And yet look at what the inmates are reading — books, presumably, not obtained from the musty old prison library. Brand new YA novels, novels whose shiny covers stand out in stark relief against all the drab prison orange and gray. Where did these books come from? Why was Red reading a new hardcover copy of We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt (well before its May 27 publication date, by the way)? And where did Vee get a shiny copy of The Fault in Our Stars to wave around in front of terminal cancer patient Miss Rosa?

Is this product placement, or book promotion, or a little of both? Does somebody in the industry have an “in” with the show’s producers? What’s going on? I’d sit through one of Healy’s “Safe Place” therapy sessions to find out.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.



  1. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Well, I’ve donated a lot of brand new YAs from our old No shelf to the fabulous Prison Book Program — a national nonprofit which is run out of the basement of my church. So it’s not totally unlikely. But with popular books like TFIOS, there wouldn’t be any copies ON the No shelf. If anyone is interested, here’s the URL
    I believe this is the only way prison libraries are stocked these days? I know you’re not allowed to send books to individual prisoners, more’s the pity.
    BUT I also want to know if there’s any product placement going on in the show.

  2. I’m not an expert by any means but every time I’ve seen prison librarians/volunteers who were looking for donations, they couldn’t accept hardcover books – nearly every book at the Litchfield Library is a hardcover.

    When I was in library school I worked at Barnes and Noble and we did have customers who purchased books for family members who were prison inmates. They had to be paperbacks and they were sent directly from either the store or the warehouse (it’s been a decade so I can’t remember the exact details.)

    But honestly, I’d rather see awesome YA books on my screen (especially the underrated Dana Reinhardt!) than a perfectly accurate depiction of prison rules. No show gets things entirely right.

  3. Jen Stott says:

    Maybe they could accept ARCs? I hope so. We get them donated to our school library since publishers and bookstores can’t sell them. I give lots away to teens but now I will think of sending them to prisons!

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