Recommended Books About Incarceration

Here are five titles that pair well with Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room.

felon, sugar run, an american marriage, sing unburied sing, orange is the new black
Alta

Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room—about a young woman serving consecutive life terms in a California prison—joins a collection of books interrogating the little-relayed realities of life for incarcerated people. Below are five titles that pair well with The Mars Room, which Alta Journal’s California Book Club will discuss at its May 20 gathering. To join the California Book Club, click here.

1 ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, BY PIPER KERMAN
orange is the new black, piper kerman
Spiegel & Grau

Of course no list of books about the lives of incarcerated people would be complete without Kerman’s popular memoir, Orange Is the New Black, which inspired the hit Netflix series by the same name. Kerman details her year in a federal women’s prison for drug trafficking and money laundering.

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2 SUGAR RUN, BY MESHA MAREN
sugar run, mesha maren
Algonquin Books

The central protagonist of this novel, Jodi, is sentenced to life in prison at only 17 years old. Like the central character of Kushner’s novel, Jodi has lived a rough and unforgiving life, but when she is released from prison after 18 years, she must contend with the wounds of her past.

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3 AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE, BY TAYARI JONES
an american marriage, tayari jones
Algonquin Books

Jones’s celebrated novel charts the development and dissolution of the relationship of two young Black Americans when one of them is accused of rape and sentenced to spend several years in prison.

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4 SING, UNBURIED, SING, BY JESMYN WARD
sing unburied sing, jesmyn ward
Scribner Book Company

Ward’s second novel, which won the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction, follows a teenager named Jojo as he travels with his family to pick up his father, newly released from prison. During the trip, he encounters a ghost and comes to understand the weight and woes of history.

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5 FELON: POEMS, BY REGINALD DWAYNE BETTS
felon poems, reginald dwayne betts
W.W. Norton & Company

In this collection of poems, Betts unearths the ongoing and debilitating effects of incarceration and the precariousness of “post-incarceration existence,” charting the inadequacies and failures of the criminal justice system.

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