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Kaavya's novel off US shelves

The NRI student had acknowledged that numerous passages in her book were lifted from another writer McCafferty.

india Updated: Apr 28, 2006 18:48 IST

A teen novel containing admittedly borrowed material has been pulled from the market.

Author Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard University student, had acknowledged that numerous passages in How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life were lifted from another writer.

Publisher Little, Brown and Company, which had signed Viswanathan to a reported six-figure deal, said in a statement on Thursday that it had notified retail and wholesale outlets to stop selling copies of the book, and to return unsold copies to the publisher.

Viswanathan, 19, has apologised repeatedly for lifting material from Megan McCafferty, whose books include Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings, saying she had read McCafferty's books voraciously in high school and unintentionally mimicked them. But McCafferty's publisher, the Crown Publishing Group, labelled Viswanathan's actions "literary identity theft" and had urged Little, Brown, which initially said her novel would remain on sale, to withdraw the book.

 
 KaavyaViswanathan's apologies fell on deaf ears; her publishers decided to pull her books from stores

In a statement issued soon after Little, Brown's announcement, Crown said it was "pleased that this matter has been resolved in an appropriate and timely fashion" and also praised McCafferty for "her grace under pressure throughout this ordeal."

McCafferty, in a statement released by Crown, said she was "not seeking restitution in any form" and hoped to put the affair behind her. "The past few weeks have been very difficult, and I am most grateful to my readers for offering continual support," she said. "In my career, I am, first and foremost, a writer. So I look forward to getting back to work and moving on, and hope Ms. Viswanathan can too."

Phone messages left with Viswanathan were not immediately returned.

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life came out in March with a first printing of 100,000, sold moderately and was No. 96 on the Amazon.com best seller list on Thursday night. DreamWorks has already acquired film rights.

Little, Brown has said the book will be revised as quickly as possible.

Similarities to McCafferty's books were first spotted by readers. They alerted McCafferty, who in turn notified her publisher. Crown alleges that at least 40 passages "contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure".

In its statement, Little, Brown did not say how many passages would be changed.

Born in Chennai, Viswanathan and her family immigrated to Scotland when she was 3. They moved again when she was 12 and landed in Millburn, New Jersey.

In an interview held before the scandal broke, she cited such literary writers as Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro, but also confided, her face reddening, "I really like trashy romance novels." She loved to write and showed a few short stories to her high school college counsellor when she was applying to Harvard. The counsellor, an author, was impressed, and showed the work to her agent.

Viswanathan was eventually signed on by Little, Brown, thanks in part to 17th Street Productions, a book packager that encouraged her to use a lighter, more conversational tone and shares the copyright to her novel. Both Viswanathan and Little, Brown have said all the writing in 'Opal Mehta' is hers.

"When I sat down to write my novel, my only intention was to tell the story of Opal," she said in a statement earlier this week. "I was so surprised and horrified when I found these similarities."

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 Darling, a New Jersey girl who excels in high school but struggles with her identity and longs for a boyfriend. McCafferty, a former editor at Cosmopolitan, has a new novel out, Charmed Thirds.

Viswanathan's fall is stunning, but not necessarily fatal. In 1980, debut author Jacob Epstein acknowledged plagiarizing Martin Amis' The Rachel Papers for his novel Wild Oats. Epstein moved on to Hollywood and was quickly forgiven, his writing credits including Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law.