Harvard student's book deal killed
Publisher's decision comes amid more `borrowing' charges
By Hillel Italie, Associated Press: Associated Press writers Andrew Ryan in Boston and Bonnie Pfister in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report
Published May 3, 2006
NEW YORK -- A Harvard University student's novel has been permanently withdrawn and her two-book deal canceled, publisher Little, Brown and Co. announced Tuesday, as allegations of literary borrowing proliferated against Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life."
"Little, Brown and Company will not be publishing a revised edition of `How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life' by Kaavya Viswanathan, nor will we publish the second book under contract," Michael Pietsch, Little, Brown's senior vice president and publisher, said in a statement.
Little, Brown, which initially had said the book would be revised, would not say whether Viswanathan would have to return her reported six-figure advance. Tuesday's decision caps a stunning downfall for Viswanathan, 19, a Harvard sophomore whose novel came out in March to widespread attention.
Viswanathan, who was 17 when she signed the deal, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for Alloy Entertainment, a book packager that helped Viswanathan shape her narrative and shared the book's copyright, said the company would have no comment.
Interest in used editions of the book remains strong. It was the No. 58 seller on Amazon.com on Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, The Record of Bergen County said Tuesday it will review the news articles Viswanathan wrote for the 180,000-circulation daily paper in northern New Jersey while an intern in 2003 and 2004.
Editor Frank Scandale said The Record, which has written several articles about the plagiarism allegations, will hire a service to vet the dozen or so light features she wrote during her internship.
Scandale recalled Viswanathan as a strong writer and an upbeat, affable young woman.
"To us she was a bright young kid that seemed to have the makings of a good writer. There were no alarms; nobody had ever questioned any of her stories," he said. "We have no reason to believe there's anything wrong with her copy. But in light of what's going on, we thought we should check her stuff out."
Little, Brown pulled "Opal Mehta" after extensive similarities were discovered to two works by Megan McCafferty, "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings."
But until Tuesday, the publisher had not said whether the book would be canceled or simply revised, as originally planned. Earlier, Viswanathan had said in a statement that she had read McCafferty's novels in high school and may have unintentionally "internalized Ms. McCafferty's words."
The Harvard Crimson student newspaper, alerted by reader e-mails, reported Tuesday on its Web site that "Opal Mehta" contained passages similar to Meg Cabot's 2000 novel, "The Princess Diaries." The New York Times also reported comparable material in Viswanathan's novel and Sophie Kinsella's "Can You Keep a Secret?"
When allegations emerged last week, Pietsch of Little, Brown praised Viswanathan as "a decent, serious and incredibly hardworking writer and student, and I am confident that we will learn that any similarities in phrasings were unintentional."
Meg Cabot's "The Princess Diaries" (2000)
"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."
Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" (2006)
"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."
Megan McCafferty's "Sloppy Firsts" (2001)
"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."
"How Opal Mehta Got Kissed"
"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."
Sophie Kinsella's "Can You Keep a Secret?" (2004)
One passage describes two friends "in a full-scale argument about animal rights," and one says, "The mink like being made into coats."
"How Opal Mehta Got Kissed"
Two girls are in "a full-fledged debate over animal rights," and one says, "The foxes want to be made into scarves."