The charge against the novel by Kaavya Viswanathan, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, was led yesterday by the Harvard campus newspaper, The Crimson.
Written when Ms Viswanathan was still in high school in New Jersey, the novel earned her a $500,000 (£280,000) two-book contract and a film deal with DreamWorks. Largely thanks to lavish media coverage of her precocious success, the book has shot up the New York Times bestseller list. It was number 32 in the hardcover fiction list last week.
Yesterday, however, the Harvard Crimson published strikingly similar passages from the new book and from the 2001 novel Sloppy Firsts, by Megan McCafferty, which is about teenage life in New Jersey.
Ms McCafferty is aware of the possibility of plagiarism and is planning a detailed response, the Crimson said. Ms Viswanathan, a second-year undergraduate refused to comment.
Ms Viswanathan was born in India and spent nine of her formative years in Scotland before moving to New Jersey. Her novel tells the semi-autobiographical story of an overachieving teenager who suffers initial rejection from Harvard and then plots her way back into the prestigious university with the help of flow charts, military-style operation codes, and, eventually, a rediscovered sense of fun.