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Today I am going to review the novel
How Opal Mehta got kissed got wild and got a life
This book was written by Kaavya Viswanathan. I saw this book in a magazine but forgot about it. Luckily, while I was browsing through a charity shop, I saw it and remembered the short review I read in that magazine. It sounded so brilliant and sat on the shelf for just £1.79. I bought it, started reading and got through it within three days!
I had so much fun reading it, it deserves a review!
Opal Mehta is a dream student. She is of Indian origin and the stereotype nerd-girl.
Her parents are not very conservative but they do push her to achieve the great plan the little family has been following since Opal was born - plan HOWGIH (How Opal Will Get Into Harvard).
When Opal is about to graduate from school with brilliant grades, she goes to her interview at Harvard to enroll. While the interviewer appreciates her grades, he tells Opal that they don't simply want students with fantastic grades but real personalities. Opal is stunned when she gets told that she should get a life and then come back for the interviews that are scheduled later, when she has completely graduated. If she has enjoyed her life and become an independent, adventurous girl, she might get taken!
Opal and her family are confused and devastated - but only for a short time, until they start developing a new plan - HOWGAL - How Opal will get a life.
They parents, fanatic about planing, watch teen movies with Opal, study teen magazines, buy her new clothes and make up and also develop plans to spark Opal's popularity. Opal now has a new aim next to keeping her fantastic grades up - she needs to get wild, be popular and pretty and make new friends among the popular people at her school.
In that troublesome, chaotic year she makes new friends, looses old ones, grows up but also realizes who her real friends are and what the ballance between her old life and her new one is.
The book has 314 pages.
The book gives away very little about her, but the first page says: Kaavya Viswanathan is eighten and studying at Harvard. Born in India, Kaavya lived in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Melrose before moving to the US. The book is devoted to her parents and there are acknowledgements on the first page.
Why is it so good?
The book is so funny because of many aspects. The characters are well formed. Opal is sweet but full of doubt. She is sensible but determined to get into Harvard.
Her parents are what gives the most comical elements to the book. Their appreciation for the new plan makes you want to die laughing. When Opal finally manages to recieve her first kiss, they spy on her and cheer because it is one if their biggest goals!
Of course, this book is less than realistic, but it still presents the problems of Opal's Indian, polite nature, the will to make it to the top and her parent's determined mindset to do whatever it takes to have their daughter succeed.
The book is full of fabulously funny moments because Opal's way to popularity is not an easy one.
It is fast-paced and never gets boring!
What does the book look like?
My edition came out in 2006 and has a mint-green cover with a girl covering the right side. She is dressed in a purple vest with a purple nice-looking shrug and carries old-looking books as well has a pair of high-heels. The title of the book is written in purple and pink letters.
The picture of the girl presents the conflict very well and fits the novel way better than the yellow cover it seems to be published with now.
The back of the book is kept in the same colour scheme and shows a bed with books next to it. You see the lower half of the girl - she has her feets up against the bed.
The text on the back of the book goes:
Opal Mehta wants to go to Harvard and her parents will do anything to get her there!
When Opal Mehta was six years old her parents carefully and thoroughly constructed HOWGIH (How Opal will get into Harvard). It is their one dream for their daughter and failure is not an option. But when the first question the Harvard admission officer asks is, "What do you like to do for fun?" Opal is stumped.
And so HOWGAL (How Opal will get a life) springs into action, and with hilarious results..
The book is published by Time Warner Books, filed under General Fiction
First published in Great Britain in March 2006
Alloy Entertainment holds the Copyright.
I defenitely recommend this book! If you are looking for an unputdownable, fun book without getting an average chic lit book, this is the thing for you!
I also recommend it as a gift. When I can't think of a present for someone, this is among the books I tend to get for them!
I have read some stuff about the book being plagiaism and that's why it isn't being sold anymore - but I sitll enjoyed it, so go pick it up in a charity shop. ;)
~The Story in the Book~
Opal 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 the closest thing to perfection and that's no accident. Opal didn't get all those attributes by chance alone - she's the result of the meticulous planning of her parents and their implementation of a very long plan, codenamed HOWGIH, or 'How Opal will get into Harvard'.
Opal ought to be a dead cert for a place at this prestigious university. 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.
~New Objective, New Plan~
Cue Project HOWGAL, short for 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, will have to confront her reliance on thinking that being the girl others want to be equates to being 'liked' and having friends, and that she'll eventually realise that she's unable to spot what a nerd the would-be kissee undoubtedly is.
~Young and Overly Talented or just a low-down dirty cheat?~
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 and you don't need to be a hardened old cynic like me to spot how obvious this all is.
~The Story - off the Page~
From all that you've read so far, you've not got too many hints that something so seemingly light and innocuous got 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 significantly 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 - not two names you'll find in the same sentence very often. 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 wringer. If you are interested to know more, Wikipedia have an excellent and very detailed article on Wiswanathan which places the disputed texts side by side. It's very hard to imagine that anyone could have accidentally recreated some of these passages.
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. I paid 50p in one of our local charity book shops and consider this a fair buy buy if only as a cautionary tale of just how badly copying other people's work can back fire. It's not my genre, it's very predictable but in an age when it seems that copying stuff for school is standard fare, it's reassuring to know that readers can spot a cheat and won't stand for it. I have no idea what Viswanathan did with her life post Opal Mehta - I just hope she got one!