When college-authored Young Adult Chick Lit scandals emerge, who better to comment than Barnard ’08’s own Robyn Schneider. Herself the author of two forthcoming Young Adult books, Robyn (B&W profile) is taking it personally.
Kaavya Viswanathan must have an industrial strength photographic memory.
Why, you ask? Because only someone with a mind like a steal (ha) trap
could unknowingly plagiarize Megan McCafferty’s novels more than forty
times and do so unconsciously.
McCafferty’s publisher, Steve Ross, called the Harvard sophomore’s debut
novel, already a New York Times bestseller, “Nothing less than an act of
literary identity theft.” He claims that it is “inconceivable” that
Kaavya was not aware of what she was doing.
But what I think is that Kaavya still isn’t aware of what she’s done.
Many of the litblogs I read are blaming Kaavya’s plagiarism not on her
lack of morals but on her age. Apparently, if you give a teen a book
deal, they won’t know better than to plagiarize. It’s sentiments like
this that make me want to gouge my name out of the LA Times article that
featured Viswanathan and myself as young chick lit novelists. Do I have
to listen to sweeping generalizations that all young writers don’t take
stealing seriously because our generation downloads illegal music files?
Just because James Frey lied doesn’t mean I automatically assume all
memoirists are “embellishing” the hell out of their unremarkable lives.
And just because Kaavya apparently plagiarized doesn’t mean that all young
novelists should be blamed. Can the world please leave the rest of us out
What terrifies me about these reactions is the real possibility that
Kaavya, the “six figure sophomore,” has brought a plague upon the young
novelist. Bitter older writers who have yet to secure a book deal gripe
that teen authors are getting all the book deals, all the money, and all
the media attention. They claim that none of us deserve it, and that
we’re all publicity stunts. They say that if Kaavya was a fake, then the
rest of us probably are, too.
And there is absolutely nothing that makes accusations like those okay.
I’ve read some reactions to this plagiarism scandal where my name is used
as a qualifier, a scrap of evidence that there are young writers out there
who are for real. I don’t appreciate being a contradiction to someone
else’s mistake, to being dragged into this debacle just because I’m the
other “Ivy League sophomore chick lit novelist.” I’m embarrassed for
Kaavya because I can’t even conceive of how someone could repeatedly pick
up the same two books and borrow from them over and over. And why Megan
McCafferty? I think this whole thing would have been a lot more hilarious
if she’d borrowed from Proust. Or how about stealing from the Canterbury
Tales? That seems distinctly more Harvard to me than a novel that gives
one character the nicknames “lend-a-hand-Amanda” and then “the
This whole situation is so over the top that, in my angered state, I can’t
help but make jokes about it. Even today, I sat down across from my
editor at Random House and joked, “By the way, I’m really obsessed with
Megan McCafferty. I read her all the time when I was finishing up my
copyedits during finals last semester.” My editor rolled her eyes and
told me to stop that.
You know, I used to think that Kaavya was a richer, more publicized
version of myself (i.e. I was jealous of her advance), but now I realize
that I’m the only sophomore with a book deal left (in good) standing, so
whether I like it or not, I guess it’s in my hands to prove that we’re not
all as fake as Chinatown Prada bags.