Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
When you’re reading Dicey’s Song, you almost get the feeling that Cynthia Voigt was Dicey, or at least knew someone very much like her. Which may actually be close to the truth. Voigt once lived in Maryland, after all, and she now lives on a remote island in Maine. She’s writing about her life here, to some extent. Dicey’s tough and tomboyish, but she’s never mean. When Dicey says, "I don’t know anything about boys, clothes, or having babies" (9.129), you get the feeling that Voigt is writing from experience—either her own, or maybe that of her teenage daughter. After all, you don’t go living on a remote island and driving a boat to the grocery store as an adult if you’re not tough as nails.
Readers could have trouble relating to a character as reserved as Dicey, so Voigt has to use every opportunity to get us to feel for her. We see through Dicey’s actions (for example, getting a job to give her siblings an allowance and Gram money for food) that she’s actually a very caring person, even if she has trouble relating to her peers. A compassionate stance toward the main character allows the author to create someone we like, someone we root for, and we need to root for our narrator in order to stick with her for an entire book.