I originally read this book in the '90s and remembered enjoying it but not being overwhelmed. I'm going to be teaching it to 10th graders next year and reread it using my teacher's eyes. I was hoping that more experience with reading and teaching would clarify the book's importance, but now that I've finished it for the second time I feel exactly as I did before.
While Gaines has constructed a solid story that illuminates the ugly nature of American racism and race relations, there's nothing here that jumps out at me as spectacular. Is prose is spare and at times overly simple. The story is predictable and somewhat boring, though the characterizations are strong and probably the strongest aspect of the novel. In the end, however, I can think of several books off the top of my head that handled the same subject and themes more dynamically.
For anyone looking for a better understanding of bigotry both toward and within the black community, I recommend The Known World by Edward P. Jones, Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley and Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin.