Dreamsnake has a strong female protagonist who learns and grows and overcomes her challenges, primarily with the help of friends she didn't think she needed at the beginning of the story. At the time of release, this was unusual, which may have helped win the Hugo.
The setting is post-apocalyptic, but this doesn't add significantly to the story. If anything, it detracts somewhat - there is little explanation for the knowledge lost or the fracturing of society. After a mention, the aloof offworlders are also otherwise ignored.
I understand the first chapter of Dreamsnake was originally published as a short story. This won a Nebula award, and really shines. The middle chapters feel very episodic, adding little but their conclusions to the overall plot. More than halfway through the book, the full story gets rolling, alternating points of view between two characters and ending up together.
I especially enjoyed the ending - the paths that bring things together and the unexpected twists of biology that resolve much of the story. This story just wasn't amazing for me, though I think it might have been 35 years ago. Four stars.