How Kaavya Viswanathan got rich, got caught, and got ruined

Many of you have already picked up on the story broken by the Harvard Crimson on Sunday. It appears VERY likely that young author Kaavya Viswanathan is a cheat. Her newly released novel, part of a lucrative two-book deal, has several passages that are almost identical to a 2001 novel that examined similar adolescent themes:

A recently-published novel by Harvard undergraduate Kaavya Viswanathan ’08, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” contains several passages that are strikingly similar to two books by Megan F. McCafferty–the 2001 novel “Sloppy Firsts” and the 2003 novel “Second Helpings.”

At one point, “Opal Mehta” contains a 14-word passage that appears verbatim in McCafferty’s book “Sloppy Firsts.”

Reached on her cell phone Saturday night, Viswanathan said, “No comment. I have no idea what you are talking about.”

McCafferty, the author of three novels and a former editor at the magazine Cosmopolitan, wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson Saturday night: “I’m already aware of this situation, and so is my publisher…” [Link]

Normally I would be skeptical until I heard more about this, but the Crimson has just broken it down to the point where you know how this is all going to end. Her literary career is over. If I were her I would think about falling back on medical school or something real quick. I was thrilled to see a teenage girl that could still write and didn’t use “u” instead of “you,” or “r” instead of “are.” My hopes for the next generation are now completely dashed. Here are just two of the numerous examples of apparent plagiarism cited by the Crimson:

From page 217 of McCafferty’s first novel: “But then he tapped me on the shoulder, and said something so random that I was afraid he was back on the junk.”

From page 142 of Viswanathan’s novel: “…he tapped me on the shoulder and said something so random I worried that he needed more expert counseling than I could provide…”

From page 237 of McCafferty’s first novel: “Finally, four major department stores and 170 specialty shops later, we were done.”

From page 51 of Viswanathan’s novel: “Five department stores, and 170 specialty shops later, I was sick of listening to her hum along to Alicia Keys……” [Link]



Reading the Crimson article inspired me to do some investigative blogging of my own and has led me to a fantastic discovery which I would like to reveal first to SM readers (an then later to the world press). Aided by SM staff I have found striking similarities between the novel “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” and the 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. For example, if you take the name of the main character, “Opal Mehta,” and you rearrange the letters, it gives you the following phrase:



p>I think somewhere in Holy Blood, Holy Grail they mention that “a pale moth” is one of the symbols associated with the female divinity, a symbol that was suppressed in the 6th century by the papacy. On a previous post we all wondered why the title character would be named “Opal Mehta” of all things. It makes sense to me now.

Furthermore, I have reason to believe that Kaavya Viswanathan may not even be her real name. Rearranging the letters in her name gives you:


Roughly translated this seems to mean that Satan stays away from wherever the Ankh is displayed (the ankh being an ancient symbol that some believe is the precursor to the Christian cross). This again is a theme that Baigent and Leigh discuss in their non-fiction book. Before the Harvard Crimson article I would have just thought that “maybe this is all a coincidence,” and this really is just a book about a teenage girl that she created from her imagination. I am sure that you all agree in light of the evidence that I have just laid out that this is highly unlikely. This girl simply has no conscience.

See related posts: How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and…, The narcissist principle

414 thoughts on “How Kaavya Viswanathan got rich, got caught, and got ruined

  1. You are totally dumb to compare Opal Mehta to A Pale Mouth and OH YA.. her name to some crazy stuff.. I am sure I can come up with some satanic meaning in some language for every single name !!!

  2. Oh ya… ABHI can be rephrased as HIBA which means SATAN in one of the Indian tribal languages !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Comment (350 #) is not mine and I do not agree with it either.

    Her personal behaviour is not a reflection on community at large. Further I find this obsession with “dishonour of community” for such trivial matters absurd. Indians in America have done well (in general)and such things are not going to tarnish their image.


  4. sorry to be so late guys but i write this from india. I felt i might as well add my two cents worth. I have read ALL the comments and i think we’ve all passed judgement. I am a bit jealous, i admit. She got a lot of money for those books and should NOT have copied other chick-lit.when you write chick-lit, atleast be original. She is getting her due now from the media and you guys which she so richly deserves.

    However, i do feel if she is as intellegent as she comes across and had to plagiarize, she would have used obscure works rather than a popular work. It’s like copying harry potter’s while writing about your own boy wizard. I mean, that’s plain dumb. So i figure, maybe she did not really copy. Hell you guys have discussed it thread bare.

  5. Nobody is perfect in this world. Not even so-called prophets, founders of so-called great religions. Its human nature. We can’t be absolute.

    When one talk about original work, my question what is original work actually? Every work of ours got inspirations, motivations from somebody else work, talk or lectures. Every work is a little more addition to past work. I am not defending the young writter for her conscious or unconscious mistakes. One thing is important, an honest writer will acknowledge when they use statements or ideas of others works. Now question, how many honest writers in this world? Even not many nobel laureates.

    Media has gone gung-ho after this young lady. We need to hear her versions too. There are two sides to every story. If she knowingly took others passages as it is without acknowledgement then she is really guilty, but if she has taken ideas, inspirations then it is not a big crime. We all take ideas, inspirations from others.

    Let we don’t let her down. Mistakes are part of human life. Give her a chance to correct and carry forward future work.

    Best Shiva Kumar

  6. What my personal view is Kavya is very enthusiastic and a multi talented girl .She has got a talent is all the diverse fields you name she is expert in that whether it is music movies ,science ,math space shuttle to gardening anything and everything .But once out of the blues one day one Guy asked her whether you know to How to write a novel she screeches to a nightmarish halt It was an embarrassing moment for her . The guy told he can still admire you if she can show that she is able to write a novel .And thatÂ’s how she wrote this novel. Guys it her prestige issue.She had done a good job Keep it up

  7. Nothing is lost for Dreamworks and Mr Spielberg – they have now a better, real-life, alternate story for their film. Should be casting Bridget Jones’s Diary fame Ms Renee Zellweger in the role of Ms KV.

  8. Gaurav – I agree with your #353 although #350 (how come it is in your name if you have not actually authored it? Seems to be another Ms KV – Ms. McCafferty mix up!) has also its points.

    Just imagine this situation – I land at JFK coming from Chennai and

    1)My father’s name happens to be Viswanathan

    2)I hail from South India

    3)I happen to be a writer – ofcourse not so famous!

    4)My son studied in an IIT in India

    5)He did his Masters in Purdue

    (All the above are true)

    With the events of last week, do you think US Immigtation is going to let me in without serious questioning?

  9. Mohan (358#)

    Really now ! KV’s offense is not that grievous to merit paronia.

    Although I must admit that if anyone can be obnoxious and rude he must be from US immigration (or consulate). These guys easily beat Indian customs.

    (how come it is in your name if you have not actually authored it? Seems to be another Ms KV – Ms. McCafferty mix up!)

    Nothing so interesting anyone can use any identity, for example I could have used Mohan Narayanan as handle for this comment.


  10. “Your honor, it’s quite amazing, is it not, how my book is so much like her book. All I can say it’s not entirely my fault. The computer class that I took showed us how to ‘copy and paste,’ ‘copy and paste,’ I just thought it would help me to get my book done a little faster if I could ‘copy and paste’ now and then. I did change a few of the words, I guess I didn’t change enough of them. I’m so sorry that I have brought shame to me and my family. I had a deadline to meet, I wasn’t myself when I copied from McCafferty’s book. I had no idea that I would be offered 500k for my book. I think I have ‘copy and paste’ syndrome, it’s a very rare disease, only Brown and Dailey and a few others have been diagnosed in the past decade. I was only 17, I was still a minor at the time, I canÂ’t be tried for adultery, can I? Is that any reason to throw the book at me? Give me a break. Oh, John Stossel says that. Maybe I should become an investment banker, my parents are very good friends with a woman named Martha.”

  11. I personally think KV here doesn’t have the full story here. The thing is a lot of desi teens do have lives and don’t need to “invent” one. And starting to write, I have to say that she should be punished for this; I mean it is kind of stealing. Although I have to feel sorry for her. What are her parents going to say to the gossipy, nosy aunties at parties?

  12. how can someone who gets into harvard do something this stupid? or am i just being naive (e.g. she cheated her way into harvard?)??

  13. It think there’s a simpe explanation to most of the questions. Opal Mehta was supposed to sell like 2000 copies at a flea market, then disappear into the dark abyss of valient first efforts. I was never supposed to be such a hit with so many readers. In which case nobody would have cared, much less known, how many passages were lifted out of McCafferty’s books. What made a difference was the current rage over Anglo-Indian media. What would have been a yawner with white mall chicks, became a hit once the protagonist was swapped with someone more spicy and exotic. Everyone knows like, half of all the Cosmo readers are lonely old geezers. Who’s to say Chicklit isn’t lit porn for pubescent girls AND their dads? Blame it on the literary johns and pimps that cruise for hot young talent. Barely-literate Kaavya was just trying to get into college.

  14. Opal Mehta was supposed to sell like 2000 copies at a flea market, then disappear into the dark abyss of valient first efforts.

    Riiiiight. That’s why they gave her $500,000 and a book contract? And William Morris likes “valient (sic) first efforts”

  15. Jesus Christ, you guys, give Kaavya a break. How many cheaters are out there but never really get caught? And mind you, the biggest cheaters, whose actions can potentially have massive repercussions on others, never really get caught. And I don’t mean folks like Milli Vanelli and Vanilla Ice (who I really liked). This girl is getting completely lynched. Not that I am justifying her actions.

  16. Let me clarify– There may be some cheaters out there who may even get caught but don’t really have to pay the consequences. Like the journalists at NYT who plagarize but just get a puny little slap on the hand or nothing at all; writers making up fake facts, and etc. Especially journalists, who are SUPPOSED to give us the the most objective facts possible, misguide their trusting readers.

  17. Hi Stop the Lynching, have you visited the other Kaavya post and thread on this site, entitled “Innocent Until Proven Otherwise?”

  18. Re: the name debate, I’m with Abhi on this one.

    Living here and having a “foreign” (I emphasize the quotation marks)name is kind of problematic. My name is simple as hell, but I’ve heard it pronounced in so many different ways. Then it depends on whether the speaker speaking my name is either a homegrown American English speaker, or a Spanish speaker, Arabic speaker, Desi speaker, and a German speaker just basically butchers my name. Actually, growing up around a lot of white folks and having heard it mispronounced so many times, at one point I even momentarily forgot how my name was supposed to be pronounded.

    When I do try to pronounce my name desi style– the way its supposed to be pronounced– people just don’t understand it. So I have to end up pronouncing it the Anglo way so that people get it.

  19. Hi Deepa, Thanks for guiding my attention to the other site–

    I looked at it, but I just wanted to put my two cents in here at this site where still, people are ripping at her.

    We should sympathize with her. Perhaps, she was probably under a lot of pressure to achieve the capitalist dream by bending to the demand of the market, and going to a posh $33,000 Ivy League college also must have placed her under immense anxiety to succeed,… Beechaari………..

    PUNISH HER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. This poor girl is being crucified for basically the same thing other artists are being hailed for, which is quite simply being derivative with the language of her medium. Had she been a film director or musician, there would be no controversy as “theft” is seen in those worlds as paying homage to your influences.

  21. Will people please stop battering this young girl . For Christ’s sake this girl was 17 yrs when she wrote this. Hello ! 17 yrs old. People who have kids or remotely remember being 17 know how impressionable and immature 17 year old are. Okay, she liked a book, read it over and over and started writing. its not like the greed for money drover her to do this. She is the only daughter of an indian neurosurgeon and Ob-Gyn. Yeah, she so badly wanted the money. I blame the Brown company for willing to publish a 17 yr old girl’s work, and make millions out of it. Now, when things are not as rosy as they wanted it to be, the young girl is to blame. Give the girl some credit to get into Harvard. I am sure the book deal is not the only thing that got her into Harvard. Back off, and appreciate her work. The average 17 yr old in this country is busy being goofy and doing irresponsible things. You have my vote Dear Kavvya Vishwanathan. I am proud of you being in Harvard and being different enough to have the ability to atleast attempt to write.

  22. Casper, Raj, and Matt:

    Casper, I completely agree with you. Raj and Matt: yes, I also agree with you two. That is why I wrote a post titled “Stop the lynching!!!” One thing, though: I do think that with incidences like these, we should look at the “celebrity” culture that we live in. This is not to say that every artist and writer who takes a crack at creativity is looking to be a celebrity. However, I do think that getting a million dollar contract, getting your name plastered everywhere, and having your book made into a movie does play a part when someone feels induced to cheat, write something controversial because they know that any “kind of publicity is good publicity”, and other various instances.

    Having made it to Harvard is great, really. But there are cheaters (at least the ones we know of) who 1)did graduate from Harvard (Bush) and 2)didn’t graduate from Harvard.

    Let us also remember that just because someone got into Harvard doesn’t necessarily mean that 1) he/she is “intelligent” and 2)that he/she got there through the dint of sheer hard work. A personal anecdote: the saledictorian of my graduating class cheated her entire way through high school!! I knew, and everyone else knew, because I had all my classes with her and she sat right next to Linda, who was the valedictorian, and copied almost every single assignment off of Linda. She also got Linda to write up her papers.

  23. stop the lynching:

    i spent some time at harvard..and i agree with your statements from above.. not everyone at harvard there should/or deserves to be there.. there are a ton of ‘legacy’ children..and a ton of famous folks kids.. (heck kareena kapoor?!??)..who ride the coattails of their parents/money/fame/fortune…but of course there are those ‘amazing kids’ as well..who just flabbergast you with their intelligence… and most of them are super humble about it….

    it’s not where you go who makes the person…but what you make of yourself wherever the hell you are… i mean.. .even cornell was crying recently like a baby since they were not treated like the other ivy league schools… whatever… honestly.. it’s really just sad…

  24. Chickpea:

    it’s not where you go who makes the person…but what you make of yourself wherever the hell you are

    Props. I agree with you. Actually, come to think of it, most of the people who I really look up to in my life and who I describe as intelligent, thought-provoking, and novel, are people who didn’t even like school.

  25. I introduced myself to an American scientist at a conference in Seattle in 1979. He asked me which part of India are you from,……..and I replied,…….”I am from north India”. He took less than a second to say……..”oh, my graduate students from South India tell me that ALL north Indians are ‘cheats’ and ‘thieves’…….isn’t that true?…….miss Mehta”……….

    I wish he had lived to this day to see for himself that it is actually ‘the other way around’. Thanks fellow (South) Indians for tarnishing the image, whatever little we had…….Amen

  26. Thanks fellow (South) Indians for tarnishing the image, whatever little we had…….Amen

    What a narrow minded, racist, ridiculous comment– Excuse me, but white Americans generally see as all as basically the same thing. Do I have to remind you that post September 11th, a lot of non Arabs, as well as Arabs, were victims of hate crimes? Should we say, “Thanks, Muslims, for tarnishing the image, whatever little we had?”

    my graduate students from South India tell me that ALL north Indians are ‘cheats’ and ‘thieves’…….isn’t that true?…….miss Mehta”………. I wish he had lived to this day to see for himself that it is actually ‘the other way around’.

    Are you saying that South Indians are the “cheats” and “thieves”? Take your racism and narrowmindedness somewhere else, please.

  27. Kiran Mehta:

    i think it’s time to repeat what i wrote on the comment thread under my post about kaavya–

    don’t be an asshole.

    commenting is encouraged and enjoyed, expressing yourself is expected and respected…as long as you follow that platinum rule.

  28. We agree with Times columnist Tom Zeller about the significance of Janek RamakrishnanÂ’s contribution (posting 83). In fact we think his discovery of the two passages adapted from Haroun forces a reframing of the entire plagiarism debate.

    The real moral of the story has yet to be found. But Ramakrishnan does receive a $75 award for his observation; and we are extending our “MehtaMorphosis” contest deadline (posting 113) to May 8, 2006.

    Concerning our views on SM itself, our answer to Anna’s FAQ no. 20 would have to be, “Very.”


    Zeller, “In Internet Age, Writers Face Frontier Justice,” New York Times 1 May 2006, technology sec., pars. 5-6.

    “The MehtaMorphosis Award: The Contest Continues!” 1 May 2006, STALCOMMPOL, Student-Alumni Comm. on Instl. Security Policy, pars. 4-5.

  29. Abhi…you took too much pain in re-arranging the letters of Kaavya’s name. You verbal skill sucks.

    Put your brain for better use.

  30. Put your brain for better use.

    Egg, frying pan. Any questions?

  31. I don’t know if this has been said yet, but I think a lot of the ‘anger’ against Viswanathan stems from the fact that she was in a position of success almost beyond this world for a girl her age. A Harvard sophomore with a $500,000 book contract at the age of 19? I can honestly say I was a mite jealous when I first heard of her. Let’s just say it was a ‘poor’ girl from a community college who was in this position, I feel the reaction would not be as harsh.

  32. I went to high school with Kaavya and though I am sorry she’s in pain, I feel like she got what most people in my school deserve. Everyone in my h.s. cheats just so they can get into the perfect ivy league school. They steal tests, beg others for answers, use cheat sheets, program their calculators, and generally are completely cut throat. Everyone is out to get A’s and nothing, not even morality, will stop them. I’m not trying to take pleasure in her pain, but I see this every day as I study and get the same grade as someone who didn’t study but had the entire set of notes programmed into their TI-89.

  33. i haven’t read the book yet and probably will not ever, anyway i don’t know how a leading publisher got hooked up with an author who was not even known before. or is it that anyone could get a deal. anyway she has never set a right moral and what she should’ve known being in this part of the world is no one entertains plagiarism and anyone who don’t know this should be aware that there are tons of softwares available to catch you if you ever try to sneak out something. man work hard on one own’s work rather tan make easy money as we already have many crooked out there. and one more thing!!!!!!!!! even plagiarising is also an art of its own like anyother black handed jobs.

  34. All the people lynching that stupid girl, get over it already! It’s darn chick-lit, it’s silly, it’s overhyped, Ms. McCafferty did a fine job of portraying the victimised party, she’s a kid who’s godawfully dumb, it’s not like she’s written the novel of the decade or something.

    This schadenfreude attitude is just plain silly.

  35. Vishwamitra- I’m not going to dignify your odious post with a direct response, but AR Rahman was not born a Muslim: he was born a Hindu (Dilip Kumar is his birthname) and converted in his early adulthood.

    A little wiki can go a long way.

  36. Vishwamitra–

    DJ Drrrrty Poonjabi won’t directly address your comment, but I will.

    Your comment is bigoted, ignorant, crude, and testifies to your lack of intelligence.

  37. Well i read this book and thouht it was great but i cannot believe that she would do that! I do remember though that when I was reading this book I came across a phrase that was the exact same in a princess diaries book by Meg Cabot. Meg Cabot i great and doesn’t deserve this.

  38. can any of you tell me if what Ms. Viswanathan is accused of doing is REALLY plagiarism?


    I give up!!

    (But look at this anyway. Comment 154. You’re probably too far gone, but who knows, it might help.)

  39. Actually, this is more useful. Should be required reading for anyone who wants to comment on how unsure we all should be about whether blah blah blah.

  40. I don’t Kavya is particularly out of line with the rest of her classmates. All of us know people who have ‘worked the system’ and breached ethical borders when it comes to getting into and doing well in these institutions. And when you read the sort of rubbish that comes out of places like HBS, you realize that their instructors are like this too and are actively encouraging their students to pursue wealth and ambition above honor and integrity. She’s just a symptom, not an exception.

  41. Leads one to ask – what exactly is plagiarism. I used to read a lot of Enid Blyton back when I had a waist: I used to like the stuff. Maybe some of that comes out in what I write – the stuff that isn’t mindless bilge that is. Most of it is probably unconscious … but could the critics care less? No.

    A small example: consider the following line from one of Kingsley Amis’ works: .”His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum.”

    Then consider the following line from a novel (#1 bestseller) by one of the most successful authors in recent times (sorry – no names): ” His mouth felt like it had been used by a baby dragon as a potty chair.”

    Sound familiar? Is that plagiarism? This might possibly be construed as a case of accidental plagiarism, ie “using the source too closely when paraphrasing. Chances are, the author of the second piece read Amis when HE had a waist (if he has similar eating habits to mine, that would be around 10), and it stuck. Somewhere in the recesses of the author’s mind. So – does that take anything away from someone who has churned out more bestsellers (not to mention the movie adaptations) that anyone in recent times? My guess? – NO.

    Critics be damned. Let’s remember that there is a subtle distinction between ‘Freedom-to’ and ‘Freedom-from.’ In laying down the ground rules for plagiarism, let’s not blur the divide.

  42. Is Kaavya that attractive? She’s okay, but is she Aishwarya?? I just don’t understand why all the news media keep reporting that she is attractive . . . seems like just an average-looking, well-bred South Indian girl. Not trying to be harsh.

  43. Is Kaavya that attractive? She’s okay, but is she Aishwarya?? I just don’t understand why all the news media keep reporting that she is attractive .

    Is Aishwarya that attractive? She’s ok. I just don’t understand why all the news media keep reporting that she is attractive.

    I’m serious.

  44. Actually I take that back. I don’t understand the TMBWITW hype, but I shouldn’t be discussing other people’s looks. Apologies.