Books: An F for Originality

A college student's plagiarism upends a hot author and sheds light on how teen fiction is packaged

First-time authors dream of their work flying off the shelves--but not like this. One moment, Kaavya Viswanathan was a literary marvel, a Harvard sophomore with a reported $500,000 two-book deal and a highly touted chick-lit novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. The next, her publisher, Little, Brown, was recalling every copy of Opal from the shelves, like so many tins of bad salmon. The defect? Viswanathan, 19, had plagiarized dozens of passages from two young-adult novels by Megan McCafferty.

A hot writer, a scandal: this too sounds like something we have read somewhere before. The new...

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