Young Author Admits Unconscious Errors

Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard University student, poses in front of her dormitory at the university in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, April 10, 2006. AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki

A Harvard University sophomore promised to change her debut novel in future editions after acknowledging that she had unintentionally borrowed material from an author she deeply admired.

Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," published in March by Little, Brown and Co., was the first of a two-book deal reportedly worth six figures. But on Sunday, the Harvard Crimson cited seven passages that closely resemble the style and language of the novels of Megan McCafferty.

"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. Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel ... and passages in these books," Viswanathan, 19, said in a statement issued by her publisher.

She also apologized to McCafferty and "to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part."

"While the central stories of my book and hers are completely different, I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious," she said.

Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch told The Associated Press that he did not think Viswanathan's borrowings were caused by the pressures of being both a student and an author.

Pietsch also declined to blame Viswanathan's collaboration with 17th Street Productions Inc., a book packager that specializes in teen narratives and helped her develop the story.

"Every word in that book was written by her, for better or for worse," he said, adding that work on a new edition would begin "tomorrow."

The book had a first printing of 100,000 copies.

Pietsch acknowledged that several passages beyond those cited by the Harvard Crimson would have to be revised because of similarities to McCafferty's writings. The current edition will not be withdrawn from stores, he said.

Viswanathan, who was 17 when she signed her contract with Little, Brown, is the youngest author signed by the publisher in decades. DreamWorks has already acquired the movie rights to her first book.

Viswanathan's novel tells the story of Opal, a hard-driving teen from New Jersey who earns straight A's in high school but who gets 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, a New Jersey girl who excels in high school but struggles with her identity and longs for a boyfriend. McCafferty is a former editor at Cosmopolitan who has written three novels.
  • Melissa McNamara

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