Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Worried yet Hopeful
The tone in a piece of fiction is the author's attitude toward the story, the characters, and the themes. It can also refer to specific ideas or messages the author is trying to get across, or beliefs the author holds that come through in the story. Sometime, in the case of those super-private writers who don't talk about their work, this can be really hard to figure out. Often though, we are lucky, and writers interpret their own tones in interviews, essays, and even letters.
Todd Strasser is kind enough to share some information on his tone toward The Wave on his website. (Thank you, Todd Strasser!) First, Strasser doesn't really know or care how much of the story of Ron Jones' 1960s classroom experiment is true. He wants us to understand that this is a work of fiction, but a work of fiction with – he believes – an important purpose:
The point is the message of the story, which serves both as a reminder of what has passed and a warning regarding the future. (Source.)
Strasser is pointing to a major theme in the novel, "Memory and the Past." The underlying assumption here is that by trying to figure out how things went so wrong in the past, we might be able to do better in the future. Do you agree with this idea?
While you think about it, here's something to make it even more confusing, straight from Todd Strasser's lips:
The murder of 6 million Jews (plus thousands of other "undesirables") may seem like a distant event from your life. But it isn't. Are you aware that similar massacres of innocent people continue to this day? (Source.)
So, Strasser seems to be saying that so far, we haven't figured out how to stop innocent people around the world from being murdered. This is the worried part. But, by studying and discussing history, his tone suggests, we can keep trying to make the world a safer place. And that's where the hopeful comes in.
This worried but hopeful tone comes through most sharply in the sympathy he seems to have for his characters. They are flawed; they make mistakes. But they learn from their mistakes. And so while things may not be perfect now, there's hope for the future.