If I could only pick coming of age novel to keep, to reread, to introduce to others, it would be this one. It does a beautiful job portraying the interior work and realizations that come with growing up, the need to accept and move beyond the scars of childhood (and the way you can't, and the way you have to try anyway). The descriptions are lush and real; it's a Generic Renaissance Fantasy Land, but one whose rivers and hills I can see.
I love all of the characters in their prickly glory, and their friendship, for all that it flowers quickly, is believable to me.
I don't love the way Gail's coming-of-age story is subordinated to Mark's. Having kids is a natural conclusion to Mark's character arc, his effort to process his own childhood and believe that his experiences have value and deserve to be passed on to others. It's not a natural conclusion to Gail's; her reasons for not wanting to have kids (yet) are perfectly logical and clearly laid out. She's barely become a teenager! She never says she doesn't want to have kids; she just says not for a few years, and Lissa says that waiting those few years would put her at the normal age for primigravida in their world. Having her suddenly realize that her fears about pregnancy are foolish irritates me.
But I can at least console myself with the fact that she isn't pregnant yet, at the end of the book. So maybe they do wait those years after all.