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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.