Overwhelmingly, the winner of the YA Agony Award is Susan Beth Pfeffer's depressingly realistic apocalypse novel Life As We Knew It. I am not sure that actually reading it was a moredepressing experience than reading my other personal top contenders, Out of the Dust (you burned your mother to death) and Taylor Five (your brother is dead and your family failed to save the orangutans), but it's certainly in my top three as well.

I think it won for the combination of scope of catastrophe (entire world), personal element (your own mother asks you to commit suicide), and, for people who actually read it, realism and plausibility (it feels like it really could happen-- and it would be depressing.)

Regarding the runner-up, highlight to read spoilers for what it was and also more depressing details. Though actually, I am pretty sure there's more than one YA novel with that plot. Guy Burt's The Hole. Several teenagers tell their parents they're taking a trip somewhere else, but actually hold a slumber party in a WWII bunker. One of them locks the others in. This seems to be told retrospectively, after they've all escaped, but it turns out that they all horribly starved to death in the cold and dark, except for the narrator, who was the sole survivor after two weeks of torture and horror locked in with corpses as her friends died one by one, and is now understandably insane in an asylum. Since the boy she blames for locking them in turns out to not exist, either she did it herself or she is still so terrified of him that she disguised his identity-- so he's still out there. The real murderer and motive can never be known. Oh, and one of the boys raped her while they were all locked in. Cheery!

But all that made me think: what is the difference between depressing and angsty? They are not measures of quality! Good and bad books can be angsty or depressing, or both. Though in my opinion, depression beats angst: a book which is both angsty and depressing produces an overall feeling of depression.

To me, depressing books are ones which you put down feeling miserable, and do not return to unless truly stellar writing draws you back-- and even then you have to brace yourself. And you keep hoping the hero will suffer less, because you don't want to read about all that suffering.

Angsty books are ones in which you finish feeling wrung out but exhilarated, or pleasurably sad, or just plain pleased. You return whenever you feel like it. And while you may want the hero to suffer less, you probably also want them to suffer more so you can see them react to it. "Beautiful suffering" is often a feature of angsty books. Perhaps the best illustration of the search for angst was the person who posted to a Supernatural fanfic-finding community, "I'm looking for stories where Dean gets beat up. Or tortured. I mean more than he does canonically. I just love Dean."

There are other factors which tend to give the impression of "angsty" or "depressing," but are not surefire signifiers.

Depressing books are more likely to involve current or historical social problems or tragedies. The historic weight of truth adds to the reader's depression. A writer intending angst must swim against the tide to not make a book about historic tragedies or contemporary injustice depressing-- and it may feel cheap and trashy if they succeed.

Factors which may be used either way: realism, believable characters, stock or archetypal characters, happy or unhappy endings, focusing on or not focusing on the hero's emotional reactions, the hero being active or passive, the hero as a victim of circumstances or the hero as the maker of their own agony, misery, or woe.

I don't think I've ever read a book where I felt that a dead pet produced more angst than depression, either in the characters or me.

How do you draw the line between depressing and angsty?

Please use examples from any media-- but clearly label them for spoilers in the subject heading!

Put any relevant spoilers behind spoiler code, as not everyone has watched or read everything. Sample code to cut and paste-- which I can't get to show up, damn. You can find it and copy it from this post: http://rilina.livejournal.com/429684.html

Sample code:

Spoilers here.

Spoilers here.

From: [identity profile] janni.livejournal.com


To me, angsty books are books that wallow in their depressingness. While in depressing books, the depressingness comes out of the story and events--you can wallow or not, as you will, but the depressingness remains.

I actually find angst more frustrating, because it feels more gratuitous. But depressing is more likely to give me that, "Gee, guess I'll just go jump off a bridge now" feeling when I'm through.

But that feeling can often be balanced by just how well the author manages to handle letting hope through at the end, and whether that hope is honest, and whether the reader believes in it.
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