Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Suspenseful; Dark; Personal
The Suspense is Killing Us
Tangerine is definitely full of suspense. We know something bad happened in Paul's past, but we don't know what—and neither does he. As he explains, "The whole truth is—I feel very weird. But I can't say why. I can't remember why. Not yet" (3.4.67-68). So, obviously, we're constantly wondering along with Paul: What happened? What does it have to do with Erik? And could something similar happen again?
The suspense intensifies when we learn about Luis's, and then later Antoine's, plans to get revenge on Erik for his violence. What's going to happen? How will Erik react? When the confrontation gets postponed, we're gnawing our fingernails waiting to see what goes down. Paul is right there with us, writing in his journal: "I sat down at the kitchen table and tried to think. Could it still happen to Erik and Arthur? When? How?" (3.5.5).
And once Paul's memory has been restored, and revenge has been taken on Erik, there's still the matter of whether Erik and Arthur will get in trouble for Luis's death. Paul wonders, "Should I come right out and say, Actually, Mom, […] (h)e was killed by Arthur Bauer, on orders from Erik. What would she do if she heard that? […] Would she do what she always did back in Houston—take my temperature and threaten to call the doctor?" (3.6.23).
We're kept guessing until the very end, when everything is—finally—resolved.
Dark and Spooky
The very first paragraph of the book lets us know how creepy the tone is going to be: "The house looked strange. It was completely empty now, and the door was flung wide open, like something wild had just escaped from it. Like it was the empty, two-story tomb of some runaway zombie" (Prologue.1.1).
Yeah. If Tangerine were any darker, it would be a full-fledged horror novel. You've got intimidation, bullying, violence, and even death—not to mention that Mother Nature is also out to get everyone there, sending wave after wave of apocalyptic, murderous natural disasters. When Mike Costello is killed by lightning, we hear from Erik that "(t)he whole left side of his hair was burned off. Singed right off, you know?" (1.10.6).
Not dark enough for you? Well, later, Arthur and Erik laugh about it, calling poor Mike "Mohawk Man." It doesn't get much darker than that, folks.
Don't Take It Personally—Or, On Second Thought, Do
Well, duh. This is a journal, so of course it's going to be personal.
But it's more than that—we feel deeply connected to Paul's interior life. We know not just his thoughts and feelings, but also his deepest fears, his despair at his family situation, and his frustration at his inability to remember his past. We feel bad for the guy, and he holds nothing back from us.
Take a day when he really could have been bragging, the day he helped save his friends from the sinkhole. Instead, he's brutally honest: "I'm still afraid of Erik. I'm afraid of Arthur now, too. But today I wasn't a coward, and that counts for something" (1.17.14). This honesty makes us feel close to Paul—and makes the tone super personal.