How Jessica Darling Got Appropriated

The Boston Globe has a front-page story about the unfolding plagiarism accusations against Kaavya Viswanathan. Apparently the Harvard sophomore has stated that Megan McCafferty's novels (Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings) were favorites of hers in high school, and that she must have internalized some of the language and style in her own book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. No word yet on whether McCafferty's publisher will accept the apology, or whether there's more drama ahead.

I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, appropriating another author's work as your own, regardless of intent (or lack thereof) is never okay. And I would be lying if I claimed I felt no small twinge of schadenfreude, since, as has been demonstrated, I am jealous, petty, and small.

On the other hand, Viswanathan seems, at least on the surface, to be genuinely flummoxed and ashamed. Here's a high school kid who loves to read and write, who's given boatloads of money and shuffled off to a packager to produce a buzzworthy debut while she's still a teenager, all the while trying to negotiate the transition to the pressure cooker environment of a top college. I can't help but feel a little sorry for her.

So what's the lesson here? Was Viswanathan so stressed by the expectations placed upon her that she ripped off one of her favorite books? Did her publisher and the media in general put her on too high of a pedestal? What responsibility do Alloy Entertainment (her packager) and Little Brown (her publisher) bear in the whole affair? Should they have been more rigorous in their fact-checking? Were their production schedules so tight that there wasn't time for a full vetting?

More to come as more information emerges, I suppose.

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