Sophomore’s New Book Contains Passages Strikingly Similar to 2001 Novel

Kaavya Viswanathan’s ‘Opal Mehta’ includes several passages nearly identical to another author’s earlier work; that work's publisher is looking into the matter

A recently-published novel by Harvard undergraduate Kaavya Viswanathan ’08, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," contains several passages that are strikingly similar to two books by Megan F. McCafferty—the 2001 novel "Sloppy Firsts" and the 2003 novel "Second Helpings."

At one point, "Opal Mehta" contains a 14-word passage that appears verbatim in McCafferty’s book "Sloppy Firsts."

Reached on her cell phone Saturday night, Viswanathan said, “No comment. I have no idea what you are talking about.”

McCafferty, the author of three novels and a former editor at the magazine Cosmopolitan, wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson Saturday night: “I’m already aware of this situation, and so is my publisher.”

McCafferty first heard about the similiarites between the books on April 11 in an e-mail from a fan, according to her agent Joanna Pulcini. Pulcini said that she notified Random House, which published both of McCafferty’s novels, about the matter.

"Our author has been in touch with us about this and we are taking these allegations very seriously," said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House. When asked whether Random House has lodged a complaint with Viswanathan's publisher, Little, Brown, Applebaum said: "Publishing protocol dictates that one contacts the publisher of the book whose text may bear alleged similarities. So it is customary, it would be customary, for us to reach out to the publisher you name."

Little, Brown signed Viswanathan to a two-book, $500,000 contract while she was in high school. This is the first book that the Harvard sophomore has produced for the publisher under that deal, and it reached 32nd on the New York Times' hardcover fiction bestseller list this week.

Representatives from Little, Brown have not returned requests for comment.

DreamWorks has purchased the movie rights to Viswanathan’s novel. A DreamWorks spokesman, Bob Feldman, said Saturday night that the studio could not immediately respond.

While the two novels differ in plot, the similarities in language begin in the opening pages and continue throughout the works.

The following examples are among the clearest parallels between the two novels. Italics appeared in the originals:

‘YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE’

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.”

‘I NEEDED IN A BEST FRIEND’

From page 7 of McCafferty’s first novel: “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.

From page 14 of Viswanathan’s novel: “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 first 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 got on.”

‘BIG JOKE’

From page 23 of McCafferty’s first novel: “He’s got dusty reddish dreads that a girl could never run her hands through. His eyes are always half-shut. His lips are usually curled in a semi-smile, like he’s in on a big joke that’s being played on you but you don’t know it yet.”

From page 48 of Viswanathan’s novel: “He had too-long shaggy brown hair that fell into his eyes, which were always half shut. His mouth was always curled into a half smile, like he knew about some big joke that was about to be played on you.”

'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….”

‘INVADING MY PERSONAL SPACE’

From page 213 of McCafferty’s first novel: “Marcus then leaned across me to open the passenger-side door. He was invading my personal space, as I had learned in Psych class, and I instinctively sank back into the seat. That just made him move in closer. I was practically one with the leather at this point, and unless I hopped into the backseat, there was nowhere else for me to go.”

From page 175 of Viswanathan’s novel: “Sean stood up and stepped toward me, ostensibly to show me the book. He was definitely invading my personal space, as I had learned in a Human Evolution class last summer, and I instinctively backed up till my legs hit the chair I had been sitting in. That just made him move in closer, until the grommets in the leather embossed the backs of my knees, and he finally tilted the book toward me.”

‘COME ON, I WANT TO TALK TO YOU’

From page 209 of McCafferty’s first novel:

“‘Uhhhh…I live less than half a mile from here. Twelve Forest Drive.’
“Pause.
“‘So I don’t need a ride…’
“Another pause.
“‘But do you want one?’ he asked.
“God, did I want one.
“He knew it, too. He leaned over the front seat and popped open the passenger-side door. ‘Come on, I want to talk to you,’ he said.”

From page 172 of Viswanathan’s novel:

“‘Sit down.’
“‘Uh, actually…I was just dropping off some books. I’m supposed to be home by nine. And it’s already eight-forty.’
“Pause.
“‘So I can’t really stay…’
“Another pause.
“‘But you want to?’ he asked.
“Did I? Yes…
“He knew it, too. He patted the chair again. ‘Come on, I want to talk to you,’ he said.”

'TO BUY DIET COKES FROM'

From page 67 of McCafferty's second novel, "Second Helpings": "...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."

-Staff writer David Zhou can be reached at dzhou@fas.harvard.edu.