Yonge does an exceptional job in this novel of developing her characters. It is this gift that maintains the reader's attention through what is a rather long novel about a large English family growing up in the countryside. Her insight into human nature and even human psychology for most of the novel as depicted in her characters is to be greatly admired.
The unfortunate part of this novel occurs within the last 1,000 pages or so. Up to this point, the novel is quite good. It had maintained a "realness" to it without overdoing the sentimental drama. All of this ends towards the end of the novel. The story of Alan Earnscliffe and Margaret May is over-the-top sentimental and sad. This would be forgiveable, if the main protaganist in the novel (Ethel) had her own happy ending. Spoiler alert: Unfortunately, Ethel continues to sacrifice everything for others knowing that she will end up lonely when they all move on with their lives. It goes beyond honest Christian charity and unselfishness into an unhealthy lack of boundaries on Ethel's part. She seems to fail at teaching some of her family members self-sufficiency. The very thing that the authoress critiques in Dr. May (Ethel's father) when his wife was alive, she unknowingly fosters by keeping him dependent on Ethel to run the household.
It is a travesty that Yonge chose to end her novel this way. The ending does not appear to be as measured and well-thought out as the rest of the novel. It is almost as if she was in a hurry to wrap things up (the ending is rather abrupt). The three stars I gave this novel were for her brilliant character development and beginning and middle sections of the novel. The ending I would give a negative rating if it existed. That is quite unfortunate.