Not Novel Enough, Teen’s Book Recalled

Times Staff Writer

A teen novel by a Harvard student accused of plagiarizing a successful author of young adult fiction was yanked Thursday from bookstores by its publisher, Little, Brown & Co.

“How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” by 19-year-old sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan contained at least 40 passages similar or identical in theme and content to parts of two novels by Megan McCafferty, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings.”

Although Little, Brown’s publisher Michael Pietsch had initially defended Viswanathan, he decided to recall the books. “Little, Brown today sent a notice to retail and wholesale accounts asking them to stop selling copies of the book and to return unsold inventory to the publisher for full credit,” said Pietsch in a written statement.


Little, Brown had shipped 55,000 copies of the novel, a spokeswoman for the publishing house said Thursday.

McCafferty, speaking on the matter for the first time since the Harvard Crimson broke the story on its website Sunday, said: “I am not seeking restitution in any form. The past few weeks have been very difficult.... I look forward to getting back to work and moving on, and hope Ms. Viswanathan can too.”

McCafferty had been alerted by her fans to the similarities between her books and Viswanathan’s shortly after “Opal Mehta” was published April 4.

In an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, Viswanathan, a fan of McCafferty’s novels, blamed her photographic memory. Earlier, she had apologized to McCafferty, saying she did not consciously plagiarize her. On Wednesday, in an interview on NBC’s “Today,” Viswanathan said: “I must have just internalized her words. I never, ever intended to deliberately take any of her words.”

Although her novel received mixed reviews, Viswanathan had been the subject of positive news stories, mostly focusing on her youth, her ethnicity (she was born in India) and her two-book deal, worth a reported $500,000. DreamWorks optioned the book for a movie. This week, a studio spokeswoman said executives were reviewing the issue.

Viswanathan was brought to the attention of a William Morris literary agent by Katherine Cohen, the New York City educational consultant hired by Viswanathan’s parents to help with the college application process. The agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, then introduced Viswanathan to a book packaging firm, 17th Street Productions, a division of Alloy, a company that produces youth entertainment properties. The packaging firm helped Viswanathan fashion a story and characters before selling the proposal to Little, Brown. Alloy had no comment Thursday.

Cohen said Viswanathan had won early acceptance to Harvard at age 16. Viswanathan was able to write on her application that she had a literary agent, though she would not sign a book contract until her freshman year. “I am sure that made her stand out among all the applicants,” Cohen said.