Why, Oh Why?

Poor Kaavya Viswanathan.  Plagiarism, plagiarism everywhere and not a lawyer in sight.

If you haven't heard, Kaavya is the Harvard undergrad who signed a sweet two-book deal with Little, Brown and Company, and now she is caught in a legal / PR shitstorm after being accused of plagiarism in her first book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. You can look at sample passages from her book and two books by Megan McCafferty–there is definitely theft there.  The Wikipedia article on Kaavya examines several other accusations of plagiariasm, from four additional books, including Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Megan Cabot's The Princess Diaries.  That's a total of six books she would have plagiarised from.

That sounds like a lot of work.  I can't imagine going through all the trouble to lift text from so many different sources.  It all seems very weird to me.  Did Saavya plagiarize? Yes. Are all of the alleged passages plagiarism? Probably not.  In some instances language is obviously lifted, entire sentences.  But at some point I start to wonder how prevalent the tropes in chick-lit and YA girls' books are, and at what point a snatch of pre-teen dialogue becomes a trope, a convention, and not someone's original creation.

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4 thoughts on “Why, Oh Why?”

  1. That’s a really good question. Tween and teen fiction are rapidly expanding publishig fields, and so much of the stuff coming out right now is derivitive at best. But this segment of the population gravitates toward hearing the same thing over and over. Look at how many times my 15 year old sister can watch the same episode of room raiders or date my mom on MTV.

    Great post, by the way!

  2. Well, as both a librarian and a plain-ol-reader, I go through a lot of YA chick lit & adult chick lit (there IS some good stuff out there – you just have to sort through some not-so-good stuff to get to it), and I’ve read two of the allegedly plagiarised books (Meg Cabot & Sophie Kinsella). I must admit, they sound too similar to have been not duplicated. Yes, the PLOTS of chick lit novels are conventional (and the jokes often are too), but the fun is in how you get there. Each chick lit writer has her own style. You can’t take it away from them. It may be genre, but it’s still damn hard to write a novel. Kaavya seems to have taken a short cut, banking on the general public’s opinion that all chick lit is derivative. No, it’s not.

  3. Hmm . . . to clarify what I meant above, I think that having a similar plot isn’t plagarism in chick lit, but having a similar way of getting through that plot (voice, dialogue, situation) IS.

  4. I see what you’re saying, Steph. And Kaavya definitely did plagiarize, but it baffles my mind how she could have stolen from so many books, ya know? And the jokes are what I’m thinking of, those little bits of witty / catty dialogue that sounds so familiar they seem an essential part of the genre, especially the YA stuff.

    I don’t mean to poo-poo the tropes / conventions either, just note their existence; and regardless of Kaavya’s obvious wrong doing, for the rest of the honest writers out there it is probably hard to write around all of the trends in the existing genre…and one reason is that in YA chick-lit, there is *truth* to so many of the repeated themes and jokes. There is an archetypal American high school experience, there just is, and it’s going to show through the work. I mean, remember all those 80’s movies?

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