Harvard Student's Book Pulled From Shelves For Plagiarism

How 'Opal Mehta' got pulled from stores
Posted 4/27/2006 7:56 PM ET
USAToday.com

NEW YORK (AP) — A teen novel at the heart of a plagiarism dispute has been pulled from stores. Author Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard University sophomore, had acknowledged that several passages in How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life were borrowed from the works of another writer.

Publisher Little, Brown and Company, which had signed the author to a reported six-figure deal, said in a statement Thursday that it had notified retail and wholesale outlets to stop selling copies of the book, and to return unsold copies to the publisher.

Visnawanathan has apologized repeatedly for lifting material from Megan McCafferty, whose books include Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, saying she had read McCafferty's books voraciously in high school and unintentionally mimicked them.

McCafferty's publisher, the Crown Publishing Group, labeled Viswanathan's actions "literary identity theft" and had urged Little, Brown, which initially said her novel would remain on sale, to pull the book.

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life came out in March with a first printing of 100,000. DreamWorks has already acquired film rights.

Little, Brown has said the book will be revised as quickly as possible.

Similarities to McCafferty's books, which include Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, were first spotted by readers. They alerted McCafferty, who in turn notified her publisher.

Since then, numerous similar passages have been found. Viswanathan was assisted on her book by 17th Street Productions, a book packager specializing in teen narratives, but Little, Brown has said the writing was all hers.

Viswanathan has said she read McCafferty's books three or four times while in high school but didn't bring them to Harvard with her and didn't consult them while writing.

"When I sat down to write my novel, my only intention was to tell the story of Opal," she said in a statement earlier this week. "I was so surprised and horrified when I found these similarities."

Viswanathan's novel tells the story of Opal, a hard-driving teen from New Jersey who earns straight A's in high school but who gets rejected from Harvard because she forgot to have a social life. Opal's father concocts a plan code-named HOWGAL (How Opal Will Get A Life) to get her past the admissions office.

McCafferty's books follow a heroine named Jessica, a New Jersey girl who excels in high school but struggles with her identity and longs for a boyfriend. McCafferty is a former editor at Cosmopolitan. Her third novel, Charmed Thirds, was released two weeks ago.

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Two things bother me about this story. First is the simple fact that it happened. I find it impossible to believe that a writer bright enough to be a sophmore at Harvard could accidently plagiarize as she claims. She is young, and that is certainly worth considering, but she seems simply not to grasp the seriousness of her actions, nor does she seem willing to accept responsibility for them. Secondly, however, there are the actions of the publisher who seems more than willing to sacrifice ethics for the sake of business. To not immediately pull the book was a mistake, and now to plan on revisions to correct the so called accidental plagiarism and sell more copies is a sad comment on the state of Corporate America's quality of character. And these are the Grownups in this situation, Professionals in their craft. Evidently it is not just the Enrons and the Worldcoms that we need to be worried about in this country.
JB
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