Monday, April 24, 2006

A million little plagiarized pieces

April 23, 2006
Publisher Investigates Young Author at Harvard

BOSTON -- The publisher of a 19-year-old Harvard University sophomore's debut novel is investigating the work because it includes several passages that are similar to a book published in 2001.

Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" was published in March by Little, Brown and Co., which signed her to a hefty two-book deal when she was just 17.

On Sunday, the Harvard Crimson reported the similarities on its Web site, citing seven passages in Viswanathan's book that parallel the style and language of "Sloppy Firsts," a novel by Megan McCafferty that Random House published.

Viswanathan, whose book hit 32nd on The New York Times' hardcover fiction best seller list this week, did not return a phone message seeking comment. On Saturday, she told the Crimson: "No comment. I have no idea what you are talking about."

Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little, Brown, said Sunday that the company will investigate the similarities.

"I can't believe that these are anything but unintentional," Pietsch said. "She is a wonderful young woman."

McCafferty told The Associated Press in an e-mail Sunday that some of her readers pointed out the likenesses.

"After reading the book in question, and finding passages, characters, and plot points in common, I hope this can be resolved in a manner that is fair to all of the parties involved," McCafferty said.

She didn't elaborate on what kind of resolution she was seeking.

Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, told The Boston Globe that lawyers are examining the books for similarities. He would not comment on the extent of those similarities or what action the company might take.

"I'm sure everyone will take these concerns very seriously," he said. "And more to come."

Viswanathan's book tells the story of Opal, a hard-driving teen who earns all A's in high school but 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 admission's office.

McCafferty's book follows a heroine named Jessica, a New Jersey 16-year-old who excels in high school but struggles with her identity and longs for a boyfriend.

On page 213 of McCafferty's book: "He was invading my personal space, as I had learned in Psych. class, and I instinctively sunk back into the seat. That just made him move in closer. I was practically one with the leather at this point, and unless I hopped into the backseat, there was nowhere else for me to go."

On page 175 of Viswanathan's book: "He was definitely invading my personal space, as I had learned in Human Evolution class last summer, and I instinctively backed up till my legs hit the chair I had been sitting in. That just made him move in closer, until the grommets in the leather embossed the backs of my knees, and he finally tilted the book toward me."

Viswanathan told The Associated Press in an interview last month that the heroine bears similarities to herself: Indian heritage, New Jersey upbringing, Harvard and both she and Opal's father drive Range Rovers.

There's also a teenage boy in the book who has a striking resemblance to a classmate for whom Viswanathan had an unrequited crush. But the author said last month that those were just superficial details and the book is invented fiction.

Viswanathan is the youngest author signed by Little, Brown and Co. in decades, and the movie rights for the novel have already been sold to DreamWorks.

McCafferty is a former editor at Cosmopolitan who has written three novels.


Blogger Alan Cordle said...

It's shameful and hypocritical that the Harvard Crimson would go after their student's alleged plagiarism, but won't take on the corruption of their own literature faculty:

Thanks, as always, for your great site.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whooooo, Jersey representing!

Wait a sec...

12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been following this with some interest. Viswanathan has owned up to everything, and, so far, I feel quite sympathetic to her.

If it's a matter of a few passages, I find it unfortunate, but I wonder how rushed she was, how much pressure she was under, and if her editor gave her manuscript any serious scrutiny. Or was the publishing house too eager to get out a book by their hot new 17-year-old property to give the manuscript a careful reading?

If she plagiarized more (meaning plot lines and characters), then she will have more serious soul-searching to do, but I **still** think it was her publisher's responsibility to pay close attention. She is awfully young to be in the spotlight like this.

I hope her life isn't ruined by this situation.

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Big Eye said...

She should be OK if she goes into law or politics. See Ted Kennedy, or Joe Biden.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Eddo said...

Wow. That is a really close similarity.

I know when I am writing a passage I heard once in an English class went something like this, "Darkness was a dark cloak draped around him." To this day I still want to use something along those lines when I am talking about someone who is in the dark. It is just a phrase that keeps resurfacing no matter how hard I push it down.

Perhaps that is what happened here. She read something and it kind of stuck with her and she used it unconsciously - sort of.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who did a twenty-five page research paper on McCafferty's book, and a few other YA novels, I understand why this chick chose to remix Sloppy First. It is the best of these shallow YA novels that the tweeners are into. McCafferty's work is actually quite intelligent and true to the teenage experience. So at least Viswanathan cared enough about her readers to steal from the best in the genre, stupid, but still thoughtful.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read the first two books that megan mcafferty has written and i found them interesting. they were the best books i have ever read in my life. Its a shame that Kaavya Viswanathan couldnt be original enough to come up with a story of her own. Revising and changing a few words here and there still counts as plagiarism. Age shouldnt let her get away with it because even in high school we are taught not to plaigiaris and are punished for it if we do. She shouldnt be an exception. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to know that a book takes time, ideas, and patience. If she didnt have any ideas she shouldnt of published her "remix". Its unfair to Megan Mcafferty and her fans. Kaavya Viswanathan shouldnt be able to get away and still get money for her so-called "novel". It takes talent to write. Not the ability to copy, paste, and edit.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what i find worst is that not only did she make money of her plagiarism, but they're actually turning it into a MOVIE. now maybe i missed it but as far as i know there is no movie in the works for sloppy firsts or second helpings, which are both excellent books. she should NOT be making anymore money off of megan mccafferty. if anything, dreamworks should be calling mccafferty up to correct that completely unfair situation.

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