Here are some of my responses:
Honestly, I think everyone's being too hard on the kid. It's really easy to internalize words, phrases, even whole chunks of narrative and details of scene. If she's a voracious reader, and these are books she's loved and read more than once, it makes total sense that she might have unconsciously mimicked them, without realizing it.
And honestly, I can't imagine that a Harvard-bound student, who knew that with that big advance would come a lot of publicity and scrutiny, would consciously take such a risk as to deliberately plagiarize.
They're planning to revise the passages in the next edition, and provide an acknowledgement of influence to McCafferty. Seems appropriate to me.
Response from a mailing list (attribution stripped):
> I am pasting the url for this article that quotes the author about her
> literary influences, and how she never mentioned McCafferty. I don't think
> anyone is being hard on the "kid."
Response from me:
Firstly, she is a kid -- she's still underage, not a legal adult by many U.S. standards. So I don't think the quote marks are necesssary.
Secondly, that article is unreasonable in its analysis of her literary influences, based on various interviews where she talked about either literary fiction or children's books. I've been interviewed tons, and they always ask this question, and no more than one percent of my favorite books have I ever managed to mention -- there are just too many authors I love, and too little time/space in interviews. I can quote huge passages of Guy Gavriel Kay, but I don't think he's ever come up in an interview -- ditto Dorothy Sayers, and hundreds more. The article's analysis is nonsense.
Thirdly, the situation with the book packager is clearly complex; there's no doubt some question of the extent to which Kaavya actually wrote the novel. But plenty of people employ ghostwriters or co-writers; that's part of the industry, and well-accepted. Readers may not love the practice, but it is practiced extensively, and isn't generally considered unethical by the publishing industry.
In any case, that's not the reason people are burning her in effigy; that's a separate question from the issue of plaigarism. To whatever extent the passages did imitate Ms. Mcarthy's, they were almost certainly Kaavya's writing, not the packager's. And that's what I was addressing when I said that the imitation was likely unconscious.
My college students do this constantly -- and often, the brighter students are more likely to internalize and imitate the most vivid passages of writing, without realizing it. It's a learning process, and as you become more experienced as a writer, you learn to recognize that imitation and find your own voice. If anything, this entire debacle should be a cautionary tale for the publishing industry about the dangers of glorifying the very young writer.