Kaavya Viswanathan, teen author of the best-selling How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, has been accused of plagiarism. She borrowed phrases and structure from other novels about young adult life, especially from Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts. Viswanathan, who is very apologetic and calls herself a big fan of McCafferty's work, said the plagiarism was inadvertent. Some commentators and legal scholars have been skeptical of this defense.
I believe her.
I live with teenagers, who borrow and sample phrases from so many sources that they have no idea where they came from. They will take a line – from conversation, from reading, from the radio, from a movie – and use it as their instant message screen name for a couple of weeks, and move on. In the mean time, everyone they communicate with reads the phrase, perhaps dozens of times, without knowing where it originally came from.
My daughters introduced me to the wonderfully silly novels of Louise Rennison featuring English teenager Georgia Nicholson. Georgia has a distinctive way of speaking, and I find myself using her constructions – "My heart leapt like a leaping thing on leaping pills" -- without thinking of sources or attribution. Therefore I fully sympathize with an actual teenage author who has fully absorbed phrases from teen fiction in her own writing without knowing it.
I bought Opal Mehta, and await the end of our busy school term to enjoy it.