Chime Not Shine: The National Book Awards Nominates The Wrong Book

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Well, this is awkward. When the National Book Foundation announced its nominees last week for the Young People’s Literature category of the National Book Awards, they accidentally picked a book called Shine when they really meant to pick one called Chime. Instead of honoring Franny Billingsley’s young adult novel about a teenage witch, they found themselves praising Lauren Myracle’s young adult novel about a teenage sleuth who investigates a hate crime. Billingsley’s Chime was belatedly nominated and on Monday, Myracle announced that she had been asked drop out of the awards.

“I was asked to withdraw by the National Book Foundation to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work,” she explained to the New York Times. Really? Letting her remain nominated would have ruined the award’s “integrity?” That’s pretty harsh.

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So how did the wrong book get selected? On Oct. 12, the finalists were announced live on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud radio show. As Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, explained at the beginning of the broadcast, “all the deliberations take place without the staff knowing anything about it.” According to news reports, the judges had given their choices to the Foundation over the phone and confusion may have arisen over the two books’ similar-sounding titles.  (That hasn’t been confirmed; Augenbaum has said only that it was “an internal problem.”) But during the broadcast, which was also streamed as a live video here, Foundation representatives held up a copy of Myracle’s Shine and offered a detailed explanation for its selection. Did no one double-check the names when they ordered the five books? Or better yet, did anyone actually read the books before they were nominated?

At least one good thing came out of the mix-up: because Shine deals with a gay-related hate crime, Myracle asked the Foundation to donate $5,000 to the Matthew Shepherd Foundation, which advocates acceptance of gay youths. Had she remained a finalist, Myracle would have received $1,000, a medal, and a “citation” from the jury. So the mix-up will actually end up costing the Foundation more money.

The winners of the National Book Awards will be announced at a ceremony in New York on Nov. 16. That’s the plan, anyway. Who knows, maybe they’ll just read off a list of random books instead.

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