How Opal Mehta Got Copied, Got Exposed, and Got Her Life Ruined…by 19

Wow! Are there any books out there from which this Kaavya Viswanathan DIDN’T outright steal material? I hate to pile on when the subject is a 19-year-old young woman from my home state of New Jersey, but the evidence is mounting that this was grand theft authoring.

Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” has been basically given a literary death sentence by its publisher, Little, Brown and Company. And since it was “chick lit” and the only thing I read are newspapers and news Web sites, I wouldn’t have read it anyway. But if there are any fans of the genre who want to get a copy of “Opal Mehta” now that it has been pulled from existence, it sounds from all these articles I’m reading that you could eventually piece together the entire plot and even specific lines of narration and dialogue just by perusing most of the major “chick lit” books.

As The Harvard Crimson first reported, “Opal Mehta” is full of nearly verbatim passages from two earlier books authored by Megan F. McCafferty. (By the way, Viswanathan is an undergraduate student at Harvard.)

In response, Viswanathan said through her publisher April 24 that she had read both books by McCafferty and “wasn’t aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty’s words.” Viswanathan added that “any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious.” Little, Brown and Company—which had signed Viswanathan a two-book deal worth $500,000 when she was just 17 years old and still in high school—said at the time it would publish a revised version of the book.

However, it turned out that was just the tip of the literary iceberg for Viswanathan.

As The Crimson demonstrated, it wasn’t just that whole paragraphs and scenes were “borrowed.” Even specific font styles were copied from the source material. For instance:

From page 6 of McCafferty’s first novel: “Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart. Guess which one I got. You’ll see where it’s gotten me.”

From page 39 of Viswanathan’s novel: “Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty. I had long resigned myself to category one, and as long as it got me to Harvard, I was happy. Except, it hadn’t gotten me to Harvard. Clearly, it was time to switch to category two.”

The italics were included in the text of both books.

Here are three more similarities pointed out by The Crimson that make the plagiarism going on here blatantly obvious…

‘SOMETHING SO RANDOM’

From page 217 of McCafferty’s first novel: “But then he tapped me on the shoulder, and said something so random that I was afraid he was back on the junk.”

From page 142 of Viswanathan’s novel: “…he tapped me on the shoulder and said something so random I worried that he needed more expert counseling than I could provide.”

‘170 SPECIALTY SHOPS LATER’

From page 237 of McCafferty’s first novel: “Finally, four major department stores and 170 specialty shops later, we were done.”

From page 51 of Viswanathan’s novel: “Five department stores, and 170 specialty shops later, I was sick of listening to her hum along to Alicia Keys….”

‘TO BUY DIET COKES FROM’

From page 67 of McCafferty’s second novel: “…but in a truly sadomasochistic dieting gesture, they chose to buy their Diet Cokes at Cinnabon.”

From page 46 of Viswanathan’s novel: “In a truly masochistic gesture, they had decided to buy Diet Cokes from Mrs. Fields…”

And if you think that’s bad, guess what? It appears she stole from other books by other authors. The New York Times reported today that at least three portions of “Opal Mehta” are strikingly similar to parts of Sophie Kinsella’s “Can You Keep a Secret?”

In one scene in Ms. Kinsella’s book, which was published by Dial Press, the main character, Emma, comes upon two of her friends “in a full-scale argument about animal rights,” and one says, “The mink like being made into coats.”

In Ms. Viswanathan’s book, Opal, the heroine, encounters two girls having “a full-fledged debate over animal rights.”

“The foxes want to be made into scarves,” one of them says.

And The Crimson, through tips e-mailed to the newspaper, reported a similarity between Viswanathan’s book and Meg Cabot’s 2000 novel, “The Princess Diaries.”

Page 12 of Meg Cabot’s 2000 novel “The Princess Diaries” reads: “There isn’t a single inch of me that hasn’t been pinched, cut, filed, painted, sloughed, blown dry, or moisturized. […] Because I don’t look a thing like Mia Thermopolis. Mia Thermopolis never had fingernails. Mia Thermopolis never had blond highlights. Mia Thermopolis never wore makeup or Gucci shoes or Chanel skirts or Christian Dior bras, which by the way don’t even come in 32A, which is my size. I don’t even know who I am anymore. It certainly isn’t Mia Thermopolis. She’s turning me into someone else.”

The italics appear in the original.

And page 59 of Viswanathan’s novel reads: “Every inch of me had been cut, filed, steamed, exfoliated, polished, painted, or moisturized. I didn’t look a thing like Opal Mehta. Opal Mehta didn’t own five pairs of shoes so expensive they could have been traded in for a small sailboat. She didn’t wear makeup or Manolo Blahniks or Chanel sunglasses or Habitual jeans or Le Perla bras. She never owned enough cashmere to make her concerned for the future of the Kazakhstani mountain goat population. I was turning into someone else.”

Again…Wow! And now it turns out The Record of Bergen County (N.J.) is going to review news articles and features Viswanathan wrote for the newspaper as an intern in 2003 and 2004.

What really annoys me about this whole thing? None of this writing is any good! It’s like Viswanathan took crap and recycled it into diarrhea. And even sadder is that the source works have been literary hits with “The Princess Diaries” turned into a successful motion picture. Heck, Dreamworks already purchased the film rights to “Opal Mehta” (the studio has reportedly halted production).

Some of us just love to be entertained by crap…unoriginal crap.

Hmm, then again, I guess that’s a good thing. If that weren’t the case, nobody would be reading my blog.

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One thought on “How Opal Mehta Got Copied, Got Exposed, and Got Her Life Ruined…by 19

  1. Hi Brian Kelly, two questions –

    1. Is your last name spelled Kelley or Kelly?

    2. Do you know how my friend Sabine can watch/listen to live streaming coverage of the World Cup matches over the interweb while at work? She’s a little obsessed and is willing to pay money, but we can’t figure out who is actually going to be offering the games.

    Also, don’t knock chick lit. Getting kids to read is not a bad thing (the Harry Potter argument). Emphasizing literacy in a Comcast cable world is not a bad thing. Reading books about the lives and loves of fictional women is far better than stealing cars or vadalizing suburban homes, and let’s not pretend that the readers of chick lit would be immersing themselves in Tolstoy if “Jemima J” wasn’t around to distract them. Don’t hate on books! Books are good!

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