Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
No-Nonsense, Matter-of-Fact, Unsentimental
Rob is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of kid. He's not about to waste his time on fancy schmancy posturing or on dragging things out to make us feel sorry for him. He's just telling us his story as it happened to him, in the no-nonsense, practical way that Papa's taught him to approach life in general. Whether he's relating the unintentionally funny stories of his adventures at the Rutland Fair or talking about his family's poverty, he gives it to us straight, without dwelling too much on the drama of things.
Here, for instance, is the way Rob describes the death of a rabbit hunted down by a hawk:
Seeing his talons were buried in [the rabbit's] fur, the hawk was being whipped through that juniper bush for fair. But all he had to do was hang on, and drive his talons into the heart or lungs.
Then I heard the cry. Full of pity it was, and it even made Pinky get to her feet. I'd only heard it once before, a rabbit's deathcry, and it don't forget very easy. (7. 10-11)
Rob sure doesn't pull any punches here, does he? He gives us all the sad, gory details we could want, about the hawk's talons driving into the rabbit's heart and the pitiful dying cry of the rabbit. At the same time, though, he doesn't dwell on the sadness of the scene or spend too much time describing how it makes him feel. We know that there's "pity" in the cry, and that it's something that you can't soon forget once you've heard it, and that's just enough of a suggestion to help us know what the experience was like for him.
Surprisingly, this matter-of-fact delivery often makes the emotional impact of the book's events even stronger than it might be with a more obviously expressive narrator. Instead of trying to tell us how much grief he's feeling over his father's death, for instance, the straightforward way in which Rob recounts his discovery of Papa's body and the events that follow show us first-hand how much he's hurting. It makes for a quieter, more dignified kind of sadness, and a narrative in line with the plain, no-frills life of Rob and his family.