Rarely has an author succeeded, then failed, so quickly as Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard University sophomore who acknowledged lifting material from another author’s work for her debut novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life.”
Just weeks after her book was released with a first printing of 100,000 and a wave of favorable attention, publisher Little, Brown and Company announced Thursday that “all editions” would be pulled from store shelves and that retailers had been asked to return unsold copies for “full credit.”
Viswanathan, 19, has apologized repeatedly to author Megan McCafferty, saying she had read McCafferty’s books voraciously in high school and unintentionally mimicked them.
But McCafferty’s publisher, the Crown Publishing Group, believed Viswanathan guilty of “literary identity theft” and urged Little, Brown, which initially said her novel would remain on sale, to withdraw the book.
Little, Brown has said “Opal Mehta” would be revised, but in its statement did not refer to a new edition. Neither Little, Brown, nor Viswanathan’s agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, would offer immediate comment when asked by The Associated Press if the book was being changed, or canceled altogether. Little, Brown has also declined comment on what would be done with the audio book.
In a statement issued soon after Little, Brown’s announcement, Crown said it was “pleased that this matter has been resolved in an appropriate and timely fashion” and praised McCafferty for “her grace under pressure throughout this ordeal.”
McCafferty, in a statement released by Crown, said she was “not seeking restitution in any form” and hoped to put the affair behind her.
“The past few weeks have been very difficult, and I am most grateful to my readers for offering continual support,” she said. “In my career, I am, first and foremost, a writer. So I look forward to getting back to work and moving on, and hope Ms. Viswanathan can too.”
Phone messages left with Viswanathan, who reportedly received a six-figure book deal, were not returned.
Sudden spike in interest“Opal Mehta” came out in March, and sold moderately, although the book’s imminent withdrawal has apparently raised interest: It was No. 96 on the Amazon.com best seller list Thursday night, but had jumped to No. 25 as of Friday morning. A first edition, apparently unsigned, was being offered on eBay for $49.
Viswanathan’s novel tells the story of Opal, a hard-driving teen from New Jersey who earns straight A’s in high school but is 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 Darling, a New Jersey girl who excels in high school but struggles with her identity and longs for a boyfriend.
Similarities to McCafferty’s books, which include “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings,” were first spotted by readers. They alerted McCafferty, who then notified her publisher. Crown alleges that at least 40 passages “contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure.”
McCafferty, a former editor at Cosmopolitan, has a new novel out, “Charmed Thirds.”
Viswanathan’s misdeeds could be blamed on inexperience, but literary theft is not only for the very young. Doris Kearns Goodwin was in her 30s when started working on “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys” and took large blocks of text from author Lynne McTaggart. Stephen Ambrose was past 60 when caught stealing for “The Wild Blue.”
And Viswanathan’s fall is not necessarily fatal. In 1980, debut author Jacob Epstein acknowledged plagiarizing Martin Amis’ “The Rachel Papers” for his novel, “Wild Oats.” Epstein moved on to Hollywood and eventual forgiveness, his writing credits including “Hill Street Blues” and “L.A. Law.”