Opal Mehta is a really crappy book

Back in the early days of my site, I wrote a post defending Kaavya Viswanathan during her plagiariasm scandal. In a nutshell, I argued that her book sucked so much that it couldn’t have been plagiarized. Well, it’s time to come clean with a little ethical scandal of my own: I hadn’t read the book—until now.

“All shelf copies of Opal Mehta were ultimately recalled and destroyed by the publisher”

Baka-Raptor: 2, Wikipedia: 0

Finally back on top

I expected not to like this book for many reasons. It was written by a high school student. It was teen chick lit. It had Indian stuff. With all those things to piss me off, the last thing on my mind was math.

I started my count at one.

By the time we got out of the car and began walking toward the sign that said Byerly Hall: Admissions Office, I was at nineteen. Reciting my prime numbers always helped me relax.

ONE IS NOT A PRIME NUMBER. Unbelievable. She fucked up THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE OF THE BOOK, all because she was blinded by the poeticism of beginning her book with the number one. Here’s a better idea: do your fucking research.

The plot:

  1. Opal is an uptight nerd with a spotless academic record
  2. She goes to Harvard for her interview
  3. The interviewer asks her what she does for fun
  4. Opal does not comprehend this notion of “fun”
  5. The interviewer tells her to reapply when she’s no longer a loser
  6. Opal begins her quest to get kissed, get wild, and get a life

From this point on, it’s a generic not-to-hot story. Opal gets a makeover, which wouldn’t be complete without Jimmy Choo shoes. She ditches the nerds to hang out with the popular girls. She did some other stuff that happened in She’s All That, Mean Girls, and the n – 2 chick flicks I haven’t seen. Then, following predictable plot points, her social life comes crashing down, and she’s forced to reevaluate her priorities. Redemption ensues.

The only thing that wasn’t predictable was Opal’s parents. Knowing personally the social ultraconservatism of Indian parents, I assumed Opal Mehta got kissed, got wild, and got a life behind her parents’ backs (or got a beating). Kaavya Viswanathan even brought up the “no dating until you’re married” rule, so she couldn’t have been unfamiliar. Much to my surprise, Opal’s parents completely sold out when they found out she needed a social life to get into Harvard. With the zeal they once pushed her into academics, they now pushed her into being a huge slut.

I was hoping Opal Mehta would be the relatable kind of stereotype, but all too often she turned out to be the farcical kind of stereotype. Let’s start with prime numbers. I wrote a report on prime numbers in the 11th grade. I presented it at the Math Fair and got a bronze medal, which was a disappointment in light of the gold medal I got two years earlier for my paper on fuzzy logic.

Even the bronze medal is ashamed to admit it

I am a huge loser who writes math reports about prime numbers, yet I could never picture anyone in a million years counting prime numbers to quell her anxiety. The book is full of shit like this. Just when we’re starting to feel a little empathy with Opal, she does something ridiculous to push herself back into a stereotype. Why go so far? Is it supposed to be cute? There are thousands of socially lifeless, AP/extracurricular-overloaded, Ivy League-aspiring, overpressured high school students across America who want to read about a character just like themselves, but instead of making Opal Mehta realistically nerdy, Kaavya Viswanathan decided to make the character so exaggeratedly nerdy that it made her look like a retard.

I understand that this book is targeted at teens. The satire isn’t always going to require deep analysis. Fine. When Opal repeatedly questions why the slackers around her can’t see things the normal way, yeah, we get it already, you don’t see things the normal way either, and the normal way isn’t necessarily the best way. When she acts like it’ll be the end of the world if she gets rejected from Harvard, yeah, we get it already, going to Harvard isn’t the only way to succeed, and going to Harvard in itself doesn’t guarantee success. I could stomach all that thematic force-feeding until a line in which Opal states that the whole purpose of being successful in life is to become rich enough to afford to die in a really nice coffin. Holy fuck. She said it without a trace of sarcasm. I triple checked. It might be a good line if the hot slacker who Opal had a crush on said it to poke fun at Opal’s warped priorities, but for Opal to say it herself when she’s supposedly being serious? Is that how you develop a believable character? Is that how you write good satire? And what ever happened to cremation? By the way, she eats beef. Now nobody gets to whine about my India bashing because Opal Mehta doesn’t have the moral high ground.

Her writing style was about what I expected. For every clever line, there was an awkward one that would only sound clever to an AP English student. I know because it’s a phase my own writing went through back in high school. She also reference dropped everything in the AP curriculum from double integrals to Perestroika, just to remind you that she’s really smart. This is why you don’t give a $500,000 book deal to a high school student (unless the fact that she’s young and Harvard-bound is a cheap sales gimmick). Let her style develop and mature. It’s not like she’d turn down a $500,000 book deal when she graduates.

This brings us to the plagiarism scandal. The only video I could find of her was this one, which seems to have a slight anti-Kaavya bias:

Ok, I found a real version after looking harder:

I don’t trust a damn word she says, and it’s not just because she’s Indian, which is generous considering I haven’t found any scientifically backed studies suggesting that Indian girls aren’t all pathological liars. Of course, some of her excuses could very well be half-truths. For example, nobody could be stupid enough to intentionally plagiarize the number 170. Italicizing brainy might have seemed like a good stylistic choice because it unconsciously rung a bell. An isolated sentence about wearing a shirt with a day of the week printed on it isn’t all that special and shouldn’t be considered plagiarism.

Then there’s all that real plagiarism. The “Pause” exchange has plagiarism written all over it. After she’d read the “Diet Cokes” joke three times, she couldn’t have possibly thought it was originally hers. The “Human Evolution” thing doesn’t even make sense in its plagiarized form. Why would you learn about sexual harassment in a class about Human Evolution?

Still not convinced she’s a plagiarist? Look at the Salman Rushdie quotes. 100% plagiarized. Did she read his books three times each too?

Somehow, lost in the whole plagiarism scandal is the fact that the book sucked. The plagiarized portions weren’t all that long or vital to the story, and while requiring some creativity, they weren’t exactly impossible to write. It’s one thing to plagiarize a doctoral dissertation, but a teen chick lit novel? Could she be more pathetic? Does she also cheat when she plays solitaire? At least Kaavya’s now becoming a lawyer, a profession that not only allows copying but encourages it.

I shall now send my freshly autographed copy of Opal Mehta to Michael for a true literary critique.

68 people love sucking up to me

  1. The prime numbers thing is obviously meant to be moe.

    This is a great post and all, but why in the hell were you reading this, anyway? Your ability to partake in things that you will obviously and completely hate continues to astound me.

    • Hey, your inability to partake in anything you’re not passionate about continues to astound me. I’ve been doing stuff I hate my whole life. It’s second nature to me.

      Michael read my first Opal Mehta post, and being a literature hound, he kept pestering me to get a copy for him. This went on for about two years. I finally caved in and got one. I figured I’d also read it for myself while I had it. I did this for a few reasons.

      First, I wanted to size up the competition. How good a writer was she to get her book deal? How good was she to get into Harvard? I’d like a $500,000 book deal. I was on the Harvard track until 11th grade when I fucked myself over by making fun of a teacher on my very first website (obviously a bad idea in 2010, had no idea anything would bad would happen in 2001). I still got into some top 10 schools like Caltech, Dartmouth, and Columbia, but I couldn’t make Harvard. Now I know she was more or less where I was in high school, except she’s a lying plagiarist.

      Second, I wanted to explore the plagiarism scandal in greater depth. After reading the whole thing, I really wonder why the she did it. There was really no need.

      Third, I thought it might actually be interesting. The character should’ve been very relatable. I was raised in similar circumstances in a similar culture and taught to have the same priorities. It’s a shame the similarities only went as far as the premise.

  2. Smart people don’t go to AP classes, they skip years.
    Anyway, the book is pretty bad, but the writing is so dumb you can read every line with about two glances and not miss anything. In that sense it is a pretty smooth read, which doesn’t really make it any better, but does make it less painful.

    PS.: Did you stop watching anime and start reading books because your eyes died on you?

    • Skipping a year is for kids who want to get beat up by their classmates for skipping a year. AP classes are for kids who want to have classmates who can’t beat them up.

      The book was a surprisingly smooth read. The one thing missing from a typical AP English student’s writing style was gross overuse/misuse of the SAT vocab list. Perhaps I should really be thanking the editor.

      For the past year and a half, I’ve spent most days reading 50 or so pages of legal text. Opal Mehta during a week off wasn’t any worse.

  3. Managing to get into a decent law school with this kind of a past makes you wonder if GPA and LSAT scores are all that’s needed to hide the unsavory stuff that might have happened. Well, I’m guessing you’re not too pleased to see her join you as a colleague in the legal field?

    • Law schools and bar organizations are sensitive to the “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy. Although the evidence is squarely against her, no official finding of plagiarism was ever made. The recalls were done voluntarily by the publisher before it got to that.

      Before she’s admitted to any state bar, she’d have to undergo a moral character and fitness examination. They could reject her even without an official finding of plagiarism. We’ll find out next year. Generally, lying about the existence of a problem in your record is worse than actually having a problem in your record, so she might actually get in. At worst, they’d make her wait a few years.

  4. You shouldn’t start reading books like these until you’ve gone through all the ones listed in all the ‘top 100’ book lists on the internet.
    After that you might want to consider not reading anything ever again.

    Plagiarism is pitiful on so many levels. Writing should be a joy. And if writer’s block would eventually happen to settle in, you’d certainly not chase it out by copying a handful of sentences from other books.
    It’s especially sad when the victim is a great writer like Rushdie.
    Reminds me of all those shitty musicians murdering perfectly fine songs with their covers (which they insidiously call homages, lol) and at least those guys end up paying cold hard cash in order to do it.

    • I won’t be reading from Top 100 book lists any time soon. High school English classes made me hate reading. I still haven’t gotten over it. I’ve been meaning to dedicate a whole post to it, but at the rate I’m going, I’ll probably have to merge it into some other post for the time being.

      I can’t remember hearing a cover song I’ve ever liked. Then again, my exposure is pretty limited, seeing is how I ignore the music industry altogether. I’m proud to say I can’t name a single song by either Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber.

  5. You deserve a medal for reading it, really. I’m not sure if I were able to read any book like this with a “book for girls” or worse, “for teenage girls” on the cover. Weren’t capable of it when I was a teenager so why start now. Dunno. Didn’t read Opal Mehta or the book it was “inspired” by so can’t judge fairly.

  6. For the sake of playing devil’s advocate:

    While I dont deny that this book totally sucks ass (I have not read it and have no right to criticize it, but will proceed to do so anyway), give the girl a break! It seems the main issue here is what you had touched on previously. This is ultimately what happens when publishers have the lack of foresight to give a 500K book deal to someone with as many handicaps as she has: A) She was 17 (you yourself admitted that you may have found some of her phrases somewhat clever back at that age, or even written with a similar style). B) Shes a woman (not only does this confer inferior mental capacity, but also a false sense of grandeur and the arrogance to think she could get away with plagiarism). C) Shes indian (hence a compulsive liar with no sense of literary style, and also cheap). I think they would have been naive to expect her NOT to plagiarize and then to NOT lie about it.

    Sigh, if only they had come to their senses and given the book deal to someone who is A) over 21, B) male, and C) not indian, this whole train wreck of a ‘book’ could have been avoided in the first place. (Call a publicist.) Disclaimer: I dont consider you ‘indian’. Its the greatest compliment you have ever received, greater than being called a hindu god or an untapped natural resource. Take it.

    • I’m not criticizing her as a person. After all, women aren’t people. I’m just criticizing her work, and it’s not really hers, so I doubt she’d be offended by anything I said.

          • So keeping quiet when it’s the kind of sarcasm everywhere in the internet -unacceptable but still in the limit- and only say something when it’s too much to ignore makes me despicable?
            If I’m despicable for choosing when to say, you’re trash for spouting them in the first place.

            • Everywhere in the internet…hmmm…

              “women aren’t people” – 214,000 google search results

              “It’s okay to lie to women. They’re not people like us!” – Peter Griffin, Family Guy

              “Women are not people, they are devices built by our Lord Jesus Christ for our entertainment.” – Peter Griffin, Family Guy

              I’d let this slide if this were an isolated incident or if you ever had anything else to say, but a quick check of the other three comments you’ve ever posted to this site show you only comment to whine about my jokes about women. Haha, fuck the Indians. Haha, fuck the retards. WHAT, A JOKE ABOUT WOMEN, THE MOST DEFENSELESS CLASS OF PEOPLE IN THE WORLD? HOW DARE HE?! Are you not aware that I insult everybody? You’re happy to laugh at them, but it’s suddenly wrong when it offends YOU? Try taking a stand because it’s righteous, not because you were personally offended. There’s nothing more annoying than a selfish activist. I hope you never get cancer; otherwise I’m sure you’ll bitch at me for never donating to a cancer fund.

              • I knew you would bring those comments up. My way of writing makes it sound like I’m whining all the time but I didn’t, and the reason I only commented on those posts was because it’s easier and I can only talk about trivial things on your blog, plus I was on the right mood to say something. Believe it or not, that is the truth.

                I DIDN’T take any offense when you bash women, I just think that kind of view is NOT right. You may not believe it but the first person I think of when you said that was your mom. If she isn’t a person, what are you? It’s the same kind of thinking when I saw someone I know wrote in a chatbox that he would kill all gays if he had power. That is really twisted and cruel.
                And just because I didn’t say anything when you bashed other things doesn’t mean I agree or have fun reading them. Just so you know, I wanted to say something when you bashed children but didn’t because I was in a bad mood. I wonder if you would say I only defend weak classes like women and children if I did.

                “My internet” only talks about women like they are inferior, stupid, delusion, shameful, greedy, disgusting, ugly, betrayal, etc. And that is also my limit.
                The same limit goes with your Indians and retards and everyone you bash, I don’t recall you saying they are not people. Especially with that Indian things, you’re an Indian, you hate your own country and bash it all the time, that is your choice, you know what you’re saying. I’m not an Indian, I know little about it, I don’t see how I can jump in to tell you off when I hardly know what you’re talking about.
                Also remember that “Violence against women kicks ass”? I didn’t say anything because I believe violence against both genders should be treated equally. On a side note, I hate yandere girls. Because they are the symbol of one-sided control relationship where the male partner isn’t allowed to do anything.

                Anyway, while most of my comments on your blog seem bitchy and whiny, that is not my intention. And I’d rather people donate to African children than cancer fund.
                Last but not least, I did praise you for being on the right track of recommending anime to female viewers, based on your reaction though, you didn’t think it was a praise.

                • I’ll admit it must sound terrible if you’ve never heard it before, but the “women aren’t people” joke is pretty common from my experience. The reason it works, as opposed to some other group being called “not people,” is because of the common feminist accusation that men objectify women. It subverts that accusation to actually hear a man refer to a woman as an object and hear how ridiculous it sounds.

                  For the record, America is my country, Indians get pissed at me all the time, and they just have to deal with it.

  7. Hey, your site loaded! Not all of Europe thinks you’re a porn site!

    Yeah, not terribly sure of why you read this… does this mean your eyes are better? Go read something good if they are, or at least something that sucks in a good way, geez. If you read crap like this then your eyes are probably just gonna stop working completely.

  8. Looks like Viswanathan took Picasso’s words literally when he said, ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal’.

    By the way, I think I said (after reading your last review of something I thought I might be interested in) that I would never doubt you again. Consider that promise fulfilled.

    • It’s fine if you want to read it, but you might as well read it in its original form. The only reason to read Opal Mehta instead of Sloppy Firsts is to get my limited edition, autographed copy. You’ll have to speak to Michael about that.

      • I would love to borrow your limited edition, autographed copy. However, life’s too short for crappy books, as this one clearly is (well, based purely on my interpretation of your above analysis; they didn’t make much of a fuss either way about it on this side of the pond). Some crappy books, of course, may be forgiven if they are enjoyable or teach you something. Though, (unless a hell of a lot of other people whose opinions I trust suddenly recommend it to me) on this occasion, I’ll politely decline.

        On the other hand, I’d definitely be interested in checking out your limited edition, autographed copy of your own book, one day!

  9. I expected not to like this book for many reasons.
    It had Indian stuff.
    You don’t like Indian stuffs?
    Well I haven’t read that book,so I am unaware of the contents!
    But hey,all Indian stuffs aren’t bad….there are many nice ones too!I have seen a post of Mahabharata in your site!

    • My cousins in India said something like that to me once. I’ll tell you exactly what I told them: it’s ridiculous to compare the Mahabharata to Indian stuff in general. The Mahabharata is the second longest epic in the history of mankind, and the Epic of King Gesar sounds pretty lame if you ask me. You can’t compare one of mankind’s greatest cultural treasures to something like a typical Bollywood movie.

      Trust me, I have good reasons for disliking whatever Indian stuff I dislike, which is almost everything. It’s not like I want to hate Indian stuff. My life would be a lot easier if I liked Indian stuff. I just can’t help it. Indian stuff sucks too much for me to overlook.

  10. Like you said, it strikes me it would have required her even more effort to search out these chick lit books, find a relevant passage, copy, then edit, than just writing the hackneyed phrase by herself. Maybe that’s what they teach at Harvard – so long as you cite from a lot of research you can still get an A…

    • Yet another reason she’d make a great lawyer. Citation in academic legal writing is out of control. Footnotes = prestige. Quantity > quality. If you use the word “June” in a sentence, you’re tempted to create a footnote stating “A month of the year between May and July according to the Gregorian Calendar.”

      • Well, if you’re in a morally questionable mood, you could always disguise it as a teddy bear and put a note around it saying that its owner, a little girl, whose father died recently from cancer and who loved to travel but never had the time or funds to travel abroad because he was always very busy as a doctor [or something equally noble], would now like to send her little teddy bear around the world to carry her father’s spirit to the Philippines, where said father had always wanted to go most of all.

        That, or you could just ask Michael to send you a pre-paid, self-addressed envelope.

  11. Reminds me of me when I stole your ‘time to train in the mountains’ line.

    At least she’s kind of cute in that bitchy and arrogant kind of way.

  12. Your tangent about bullshit Indian courtship practices reminds me of a story that happened back when I was in a culinary arts program. The idea was, there was this limited service college café, and our indentured asses would get simulated job experience working there once we were experienced enough. At the end of our education, we’d have to run a weekly menu as part of our final; how much the kitchen sucked for the next five days being reflective of half your final’s grade.
    Anyways, a good friend of mine, one Athungal, got more or less fucked over by scheduling, resulting in exactly one day of general public service.
    He had had a girlfriend, secretly, for about seven years, which his father (an exceptionally unpleasant fellow and former interrogation specialist with the Indian Army) didn’t know about and was opposed to anyways, on account of her being one of several hundred kinds of DIFFERENT Indian. Naturally, he felt that both his family and his girlfriend needed to experience his crowning achievement in the educational program, so he decided to have his girlfriend secretly show up at around 12, and his family at around 1. Naturally, fate hadn’t decided it had punished him enough, so the kitchen was open for service at about 12:30. He still thought he had this when his family showed up a half hour early, if he was discrete enough.
    Our chef instructor was ignorant of all this, and strode out into the café to greet her in front of his parents. “OHHH, I know youuuuu~!”

    Shit got awkward real fast.

    The next week, said friend showed up with a broken cheekbone and an even worse-injured punching hand.
    The moral of the story is that people suck.

    • Your story does not shock me in any way but amuses my greatly nonetheless.

      Reason why Indians are screwed up #287084: internal prejudice. There’s tons of it. Believe it or not, and I still can’t, my father makes fun of Apu from the Simpsons under the impression that he’s only supposed to be a South Indian stereotype.

      • Yep, this is true. Don’t forget the inter-religious prejudice between the Hindus and Muslims. Or the fact that Tamils seem to be angry as fuck all the time.

        FYI: I’m Indian, and I hate Indian stuff as much as I hate stuff in general: some is good (i.e. mythology, Classical Culture, and Sanskrit, which is one of the most structured languages in the world, and milk sweets) and some is bad (caste system, utter disregard for keeping the streets clean, and the fact that everyone in the internet cafes seem to be jacking off Q_Q come on guys you do that at home)

  13. Not enough D:

    Even I know 1 isn’t a prime number and I flunked Calc.

    I just want to rant to kingdom’s come at the premise. First off, total bullshit. Harvard would say kthxbai, no second chances. Also, they’d want her to be social in being involved at school. Which may or may not mean she had a wild lifestyle, but the one person at are school who got into Harvard didn’t. Anyway, it’s perfectly possibly to have fun and not be wild and crazy. I’m a living example, very popular and active on campus, I don’t do parties. Sigh. *pout* I want to punch this author in the face, plagiarism or not.

  14. Ahem…. India sucks? Really? I agree with the whole “Opal Mehta books suck” theory, but IMO, my country DOESN’T suck. There are many awesome writers in India, and the food is amazing, and our culture is amazing, and our Sanskar are great, and Bollywood movies ROCK, and ethnic wear is awesome too!! Maybe you’d like India if you actually lived here, instead of America where of course, people generalise Indians. It’s the same way people generalise Muslims, actually. Muslims aren’t bad people. Neither are Hindus, neither are Christians. It depends on an individual, and not the whole religion. Don’t you agree? And I’m sure u must have an Indian pal or something who u DON’T hate. Right?

    PS: Don’t give me a wave of the F word now, that’ll just show that u don’t have enough brains to explain yourself.

    • Okay, I really debated about making any comments on this site, of support, rejection or otherwise. However I’ve quietly read this website for enough time to appreciate what it is, and what it brings to the table. And one thing that the content producer does not do is hold back on who he is. So I greatly respect that. I respect an individual who can be forthcoming with his own identity and even be forthcoming with his own disagreements with his ancestry. Something I’ve been too craven to do in the past. If he loses the ability to do that because of outside influence from Indians who complain when he trash-talks India, then so help me God I’ll actually hate this site. I can relate to his works here because I have some of the exact same issues especially working where I do now, I won’t go into details just yet. But right now you are attempting to argue over a set of opinions. If he doesn’t like the motherland, leave him be, you can’t force him to think otherwise, and in his own personal experience there must have been some moments that have produced this line of thinking in him. Only he can deal with those instances, and he will deal with them as he so chooses. My brother and I have way too many similarities to this guy to count, from our mother also breaking our elementary school plate decorations to my brother also being a Patent Lawyer with an Engineering degree. But more so than any of that, we’re 1st generation Americans who are forced at times to look back on our country of origin and some of our older generation relatives, and simply shake our heads in shock and disbelief. Are these people for REAL? Can they possibly justify internal classism or worse yet racism between Northern and Southern, Sanskrit based and proto-Dravidian languages, one State to the next? But many can and do because it’s what they know, and so many of my relatives are still mired in it. Not everyone, but many.

      Are there things that I love back there? Yes. From the grand mountain ranges of my uncle’s coffee estate to the beautiful crystal beaches of my mother’s ephemeral seaside hometown. Sadly, for the moment, few of the things I love back there involve people.

      And before you start talking about Muslims let me say something. Others may be blind enough to generalize a group of people as evil or dangerous, and while that’s ignorance at work and I won’t deny it, it’s also just as ignorant to generalize a people as good. Wahabist Islam is dangerous, and the radicalism that has taken place in many Islamic nations is NOT to be underestimated, least of all by the people of a nation so close in proximity!

      Why am I so bothered by this? Because I’m typing this from Iraq, and I’m over here being mortared and watching the wolves at the gates as the United States prepares to depart and I see this as a possible future for any nation that is passive enough to enable radical ideological thought. So don’t tell me to hold hands and sing kumbaya with ANYONE.

      P.S. I didn’t want to play that last card, but you mentioned Islam with implications of it being all warm and cuddly. I heard that and part of me died.

  15. I don’t trust a damn word she says, and it’s not just because she’s Indian, which is generous considering I haven’t found any scientifically backed studies suggesting that Indian girls aren’t all pathological liars.

    This is a harsh criticism and not just of Kaavya but of a pretty wide-spanning group of women. I’m very curious to hear some real reasons why you’d make such a radical assessment about all Indian girls.

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