Young Harvard Author's Book Deal Canceled

By HILLEL ITALIE
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; 5:13 AM

NEW YORK -- A Harvard University sophomore's debut novel has been permanently withdrawn by the book's publisher and her two-book deal canceled after allegations of literary borrowing piled up against her.

Little, Brown and Co. will not publish a revised edition of Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" nor will it publish a second book, Michael Pietsch, Little, Brown's senior vice president and publisher, said in a statement Tuesday.

Little, Brown, which had initially said the book would be revised, declined to comment on whether Viswanathan would have to return her reported six-figure advance.

The 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.

The novel had modest sales initially, but interest in used editions of the book remains strong enough that it was the No. 58 seller on Amazon.com on Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, The Record of Bergen County said that 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 of its own articles about the plagiarism allegations, will hire a service to vet the dozen or so features she wrote while one of about 18 interns at the paper.

"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 altogether or simply revised, as originally planned.

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?"

In Cabot's "The Princess Diaries," published by HarperCollins, the following passage appears: "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."

In Viswanathan's book, page 59 reads: "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."

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. Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, a literary agent who represented both Viswanathan and Alloy, also said she would not comment.

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Associated Press Writers Andrew Ryan in Boston and Bonnie Pfister in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this article.


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