Case of purloined passages leads publisher to pull plug

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NEW YORK (AP) – A teen novel containing admittedly borrowed material has been pulled from the market. Author Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard University sophomore, 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 Co., which had signed Viswanathan to a reported six-figure deal, said in a statement 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 has apologized 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, labeled Viswanathan’s actions “literary identity theft” and had urged Little, Brown, which initially said her novel would remain on sale, to withdraw the book.

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.”

“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 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, which include “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings,” 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 revised.

Viswanathan was assisted by 17th Street Productions, a book packager specializing in teen narratives, but Little, Brown has said that the writing was all hers.

Viswanathan has said she read McCafferty’s books three or four times while in high school but didn’t bring them to Harvard with her and didn’t consult them while writing.

“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, 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. Her third novel, “Charmed Thirds,” was released two weeks ago.

Other books over the years have been withdrawn because of plagiarism allegations, notably Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys,” which was pulled in 2002.

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