Northanger Abbey centres on seventeen year old Catherine Morland. She's a young girl who is thrust into society after never having left her country home with very little guidance. She's youthful and naive, but endearing. She tries so hard, but doesn't understand the ways of the world, motives or deceit. Most of the cues she takes are from the sensational novels she devours. Northanger Abbey is about Catherine's coming of age with a little romance thrown in, in opposition to many of Austen's later novels.
This is clearly Austen's earliest work and unlike Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility Austen did not spend years reworking it. The plot is a lot freer and the Catherine more open than many of the later characters. Although not as headstrong as a character like Elizabeth Bennet, Catherine Morland has her own charms. As a reader we get to watch her grow and come to understand things like deceit and false friendships. She grows as a person throughout the novel.
Northanger Abbey also manages to maintain Austen's signature wit. It works as a satire to the sensational regency novels of her era. Although the specific jokes may be lost on the modern reader, the allusions to black veils and treacherous husbands are as familiar to us now as they were then.
The novel is just so engaging, I really think you all should give this book a second (or first) look if you haven't already. Catherine is the type of character that you want to succeed and sure she drove me crazy at times. She was just so naive. But every time she's hurt it pained me a little and how can you go wrong with an Austen satire? This book is near the top of my list of Austen favourites.