This is my favourite book and has been since I first read it at the age of 17, and I get just as much out of it ten years on as I did back then. I read it yearly and often look to the sensible, independent and loyal female characters Binchy writes for advice and guidance.
The book Circle of Friends (NEVER see the film) has got everything a woman could ask for in a story. It'll make you laugh and cry, it'll fill you with anger and pity and you'll lose yourself as the plot unfolds.
More than this, it's the ultimate, triumphant story of two misfit girls who, against the odds of appearance and circumstance, find their place in the adult world. They face trials in the form of beautiful girls, handsome men, upper-class snobbery and controlling nuns, but, by remaining loyal to each other and remaining resolute through hardship, they achieve their independence and succeed.
Read it. It's the first book I'll ever give my daughter when she comes of age.