BOSTON — A Harvard University sophomore with a highly publicized first novel acknowledged Monday that she had borrowed material, accidentally, from another author’s work and promised to change her book for future editions.
Kaavya Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” published in March by Little, Brown and Company, was the first of a two-book deal reportedly worth six figures. But on Sunday, the Harvard Crimson cited seven passages in Viswanathan’s book that closely resemble the style and language of the novels of Megan McCafferty.
“When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, ‘Sloppy Firsts’ and ‘Second Helpings,’ which spoke to me in a way few other books did. Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel ... and passages in these books,” Viswanathan, 19, said in a statement issued by her publisher.
“While the central stories of my book and hers are completely different, I wasn’t aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty’s words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities.
“I sincerely apologize to Megan McCafferty and to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part.”
The book had a first printing of 100,000 copies.
Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch told The Associated Press on Monday that he did not think Viswanathan’s borrowings were caused by the pressures of being both a student and an author.
Pietsch also declined to blame Viswanathan’s collaboration with 17th Street Productions Inc., a book packager that specializes in teen narratives and helped her develop the story.
“Every word in that book was written by her, for better or for worse,” he said, adding that work on a new edition would begin “tomorrow.”
Viswanathan, who was 17 when she signed her contract with Little, Brown, is the youngest author signed by the publisher in decades. DreamWorks has already acquired the movie rights to her first book.
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 admission’s office.
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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 who has written three novels.
Examples of similar passages in Kaavya Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” published in March, and Megan McCafferty’s “Sloppy Firsts,” published in 2001.
Braces and glasses
McCafferty’s book, page 7: “Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget’s braces came off and her boyfriend Burke got on, before Hope and I met in our seventh grade Honors classes.”
Viswanathan’s novel, page 14: “Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend. We had bonded over our mutual fascination with the abacus in a playgroup for gifted kids. But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla’s glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends came on.”
Smart or pretty
McCafferty’s book, page 6: “Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart.”
Viswanathan’s novel, page 39: “Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty.”
Letter by letter
McCafferty’s novel, page 23: “Though I used to see him sometimes at Hope’s house, Marcus and I had never, ever acknowledged each other’s existence before. So I froze, not knowing whether I should (a) laugh (b) say something (c) ignore him and keep on walking.”
Viswanathan’s novel, page 49: “Though I had been to school with him for the last three years, Sean Whalen and I had never acknowledged each other’s existence before. I froze, unsure of (a) what he was talking about and (b) what I was supposed to do about it.”
McCafferty’s novel, page 68: “Tanning was the closest that Sara came to having a hobby, other than gossiping, that is. Even the webbing between her fingers was the color of coffee without cream. Even for someone with her Italian heritage and dark coloring, it was unnatural and alienlike.”
Viswanathan’s novel, page 48: “It was obvious that next to casual hookups, tanning was her extracurricular activity of choice. Every visible inch of skin matched the color and texture of her Louis Vuitton backpack. Even combined with her dark hair and Italian heritage, she looked deep-fried.”
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