Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Empathetic, Mournful, Optimistic
Through all the intertwined, wacky stories going on in this book, we are constantly able to see Sal learning to have compassion with the people in her life. She walks two moons in many other people's shoes, so that she can understand what it's like to be them. As a result, the story absolutely, positively empathetic. This is perhaps best summed up by the game that Sal and Gramps play at the end of the novel:
We both play the moccasin game. It's a game we made up on our way back from Idaho. We take turns pretending we are walking in someone else's moccasins.
"If I were walking in Peeby's moccasins, I would be jealous of a new brother dropping out of the sky."
"If I were in Gram's moccasins right this minute, I would want to cool my feet in that river over there."
"If I were walking in Ben's moccasins, I would miss Salamanca Hiddle."
On and on we go. (44.5-9)
Isn't that an awesome game? Sal and Gramps actually empathize with people for fun – it's their idea of entertainment. Shmoop thinks that's pretty cool.
So many people have to cope with death, grief, and loss in Walk Two Moons. It's everywhere. In the loss of Sal's mom, the loss of Gram, the loss (and return!) of Mrs. Winterbottom. Death is a very important theme, and Sal in particular struggles to understand what it means and how in the world she's supposed to deal with it.
As a result, the story has quite a mournful feel. As Sal puts it, "we can't explain all the truly awful things in the world like war and murder and brain tumors, and we can't fix these things" (44.14). Terrible things do happen in life, and there's not much anyone can do about it. There's no predicting what life will bring, except that at some point, you will lose something or someone you love.
However, even though there is lots of sadness everywhere, there is also a whole boat load of hope and beauty in this story, too. It would be very easy for Sal to get lost in all of the sadness in her life, but at the end of the story she seems to be filled with hope, despite all the tough times she has gone through. There's the other box – not Pandora's – that's filled with wonderful things, and as Sal puts it, "It is a relief to discover that although there might be axe-murderers and kidnappers in the world, most people are a lot like us" (44.14).