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Copycat Kavya: Sloppy Helpings

Kavya Viswanathan has admitted borrowing from author McCafferty, though "unintentionally." No one's buying it. 

April 26, 2006

Perhaps Kavya Viswanathan's adventures should be called How Kavya Got Inspired, Got Caught, and Told a Packet of Lies. Two years ago, 19-year-old Kavya cracked a $500,000 two-book deal with Little, Brown. Her first book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, was 32nd on the New York Times bestseller list. Then, DreamWorks purchased the movie rights to the novel. 

However, all hell broke loose when Harvard's Crimson reported that passages in the book have a striking similarity with passages found in two books by author Megan F. McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings.

Fans of McCafferty wrote to her about the similarities and her agent Joanna Pulcini notified Random House, which published both of McCafferty’s novels.

Here are a few samples cited by Crimson:

Sloppy Firsts, page 6:

"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."

Opal Mehta.., 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. 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."

Sloppy Firsts, page 237:

"Finally, four major department stores and 170 specialty shops later, we were done."

Opal Mehta...., page 51:

"Five department stores, and 170 specialty shops later, I was sick of listening to her hum along to Alicia Keys...."

Crimson also cited examples from McCafferty's second novel, Second Helpings.

Second Helpings, page 67:

"...but in a truly sadomasochistic dieting gesture, they chose to buy their Diet Cokes at Cinnabon."

Opal Mehta...., page 46:

"In a truly masochistic gesture, they had decided to buy Diet Cokes from Mrs. Fields..."

Kayva has since apologized and said that the similarities were not intentional. "I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious," she said in a statement by her publisher Little, Brown. She added that she will change the passages in question for the following edition of her book and apologized to Megan McCafferty.

It is an obvious about turn for Viswanathan. Last week, before the passages were reported, when Viswanathan was asked by The Star-Ledger about the inspiration for her book, she had said: “Nothing I read gave me the inspiration.”

Of course, now she says, “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.”

McCafferty's publisher has rejected her apology. "We think there are simply too many many instances of `borrowing' for this to have been unintentional," Steve Ross, senior vice president and publisher of the Crown Publishing Group, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “This extensive taking from Ms. McCafferty’s books is nothing less than an act of literary identity theft,” he added yesterday. “Based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.”

Kavya's publisher Little Brown is supporting her, though. “Kaavya Viswanathan is a decent, serious, and incredibly hard-working writer and student, and I am confident that we will learn that any similarities in phrasings were unintentional,” said Michael Pietsch ’78, the senior vice president and publisher of Little, Brown.






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