How Opal Mehta got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life

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How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life by Kaavya Viswanathan, book reviewOpal Mehta is an exceptional young woman with outstanding academic prowess, virtuoso musical skills, multiple languages and lots of clubs and societies that ought to make her the perfect candidate for a place at Harvard. Her application is just about perfect. Opal didn’t get all those attributes by accident – she’s the result of the meticulous planning of her parents and their plan, codenamed HOWGIH, or how Opal will get into Harvard.

Opal ought to be a dead cert for a place. She’s got a smart suit, she’s practiced all the answers to all the likely interview questions but things aren’t going to plan. When the Dean of Admissions asks her to tell him what she does for fun, Opal has no answers. When he asks her to tell him about her friends, she can only think of her physics lab partner and her cat, Mr Muffty. The Dean tells her that the world is full of great candidates but he wants people with a bit more about them. In short, the message is clear – Opal needs to get a life.

Cue Project HOWGAL – how Opal will get a life. Mr and Mrs Mehta crack into action, researching the right music, paying a fortune to buy her the right clothes, setting homework that consists of slang ‘flash cards’ and watching multiple episodes of The O.C., Desperate Housewives and every high school movie of the past couple of decades. Their mission is to make her the most popular girl in school and to get Opal kissed, get her wild and most of all get her into Harvard. It’s silly, unrealistic, predictable, enormously derivative, and surprisingly good fun.

As Opal goes through her transformation, drops her old geeky friends in order to hook up with the really cool and bitchy girls, chases the wrong boy and fails to spot the right one (though every reader will has seen him a mile off) we can’t help but be reminded of films like Mean Girls and even Heathers (or am I just showing my age?) It’s a plot that could have come from Shakespeare via Beverly Hills 90210 and The O.C. and you won’t be surprised to read that I could have told you the whole plot with every twist and turn that was to come once I was about 3 chapters into the book.

Of course there will be a redemptive ending. Sucking up to the shallow nasty cool kids is never going to be allowed to be the answer. We all know that Opal will sooner or later be brought face to face with her mistakes, her reliance on thinking that being the girl others want to be equates to being liked and having friends, and her inability to spot what a nerd the would-be kissee undoubtedly is.

Kaavya Viswanathan tries to put a twist on an otherwise very obvious tale by making Opal a highly intelligent Indian-American immigrant and making the tale a sort of ‘Legally Blonde in reverse’ but at heart, it’s just a silly and rather obvious tale that will please teenagers looking for a holiday sun-bed read. Over-privileged kids with fawning over-indulgent and over-ambitious parents will always need to be taught a lesson sooner or later. We know where this one is going.

So how did something so seemingly light and innocuous get Kaavya Viswanathan embroiled in a major media scandal that made her one of the most googled names of her time? Google it? I can’t even spell it. Viswanathan looked to be a publisher’s dream girl. She got the book deal whilst at High School preparing to get into Harvard and they must have thought she was money in the bank. Unfortunately what the publishers didn’t spot but multiple readers did was that there was even less original material in the book than even I had spotted and Kaavya Viswanathan’s greatest gift was for plagiarism. Passages in her book were identified as only slightly reworded thefts from the work of at least five other popular writers – including everyone from Sophie Kinsella to Salman Rushdie. At least we can see that the young lady’s reading habits were eclectic! Scandal ensued, the book was pulled and she was really put through the ringer. The book did seem a bit too accomplished for a 17 year old’s first attempt – turns out that large chunks weren’t hers so perhaps that’s why.

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How Opal Mehta got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life
by Kaavya Viswanathan

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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