Thursday, September 21, 2006

How Opal Mehta lied, cheated and 'internalised' -- OR -- How I fell for hype, again.

Ever since the book "How Opal Mehta..." was under scrutiny for plagiarism, I wanted to find it out for myself. I couldn't get a copy of the book (which just shows how all people fall for hype) but I somehow managed to get the books that supposedly inspired Opal - "Sloppy Firsts" & "Second Helpings".

Before I read "Sloppy Firsts", I had zilch expectations. I reasoned that if it was good enough to have a sequel ("Second Helpings"), then it couldn't be too bad. And anyways, it was only some 300 odd pages. Surprise surprise, I really liked the book. I have seen quite few American teen movies and even those that are supposedly great (like Sixteen Candles) weren't really up to my taste. However, I found the book (which has the same plot as any of those movies) really witty and charming and in many places, laugh-out-loud funny (esp. sequences involving the clueless crew).

So much so that, I was looking forward to Jessica again in "Second Helpings". And that didn't disappoint either. It was equally charged as the first one and maintained the continuity for all the characters. When I found out that the 3rd book in the series ("Charmed Thirds") was out, I couldn't stop myself. Although, it wasn't as good as its predecessors, the 3rd book was still good. Jessica Darling and her journal had me entertained throughout. Opal Mehta was still in demand and I finished 3 other books ("Only", "The Concrete Blonde" (W-O-W) and "Starry Nights") before I could finally lay my hands on "How Opal...".

I finished it in about 4 hrs. And I can say without doubt that Kaavya has more than 'internalized' from the Jessica series. (Minor Spoilers Ahead) May be since Opal is also a high school senior, it is okay to be using the same slang in the book (I distinctly remember 'dregs', 'upper crust', 'Krispy Kreme' and esp 'puh-leez'). But lifting off the entire cast of characters, the situations and the narrative style cannot be justified. Just to list out some of the many: Opal Mehta is the desi version of Jessica Darling, the clueless crew have been changed to the HBz, Marcus becomes Sean, Opal's parents are a lot similar to Jessica's, Jeff is a straight version of Paul. And, this is supposed to be a totally different book. While reading, I constantly had a sense of deja vu. You will too, because there is a lot of paraphrasing going on (see here). And did I mention that both the stories are set in New Jersey?

I do agree that the plots are quite different. "How Opal..." has a funnier polt (which hasn't been well exploited) and even if nothing else, the acronyms - PISS, HOWGAL, HOWGIH and TIP are quite funny. But they are completely overshadowed by the 'internalized' happenings which occurs in just about every page of the book.

So, what did I find out? This Opal is fake. But, going by the hype was certainly worth it (how else would I have known about the Jessica Darling series?). Now, if you prefer watching 'Zeher' or 'Killer' to 'Out of Time' and 'Collateral', then, Opal Mehta is exclusively for you. Otherwise, go for the Jessica Darling series and have some clean harmless fun.

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