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'In The Attic': Whips, Witches And A Peculiar Princess

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'In The Attic': Whips, Witches And A Peculiar Princess

'In The Attic': Whips, Witches And A Peculiar Princess

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, time for our summer book series, PG-13. We call it that because 13 is about the age when young readers start to explore the grownup literary world, even if they're not quite ready.

Writer Gillian Flynn remembers her favorite book from that age. It's not one that made the summer reading list. In fact, the New York Times once called it ghoulishly unpleasant, but that wasn't exactly Flynn's experience.

GILLIAN FLYNN: At age 13, I survived almost entirely on green apple Jolly Ranchers and the novel "Flowers in the Attic," by V.C. Andrews. My copy must have come from a supermarket. It certainly wasn't the kind of thing my earnest, thoughtful parents would have bought me, but I did love that book. Of course I did.

The story is about these picture perfect kids, Chris and Cathy and their much younger twin siblings. When Daddy dies in a car crash, their gorgeous but useless mother reveals a secret. She used to be worth millions, but she was disinherited by her parents.

So they all return to the ancestral home and the kids are hidden away in a remote spare room and locked in. The plan is for them to stay there while their mother squirms back into their grandfather's good graces. It'll just be a few nights, maybe a week. Nope. They're up there for more than three years.

I was a kid who loved fairy tales, but for me, it was never, never, never about the princess, it was about the witch, and "Flowers in the Attic" is full of them. There's a grandmother, slash, jailer who has plenty of rules, a generous definition of sin and a ready whip, but even more interesting was the mother, who slowly convinces herself that she's doing the right thing. Then, when she's overtaken by greed, she stops caring and that's when it really starts to get bad.

"Flowers in the Attic" is most famous for the fact that Cathy and her brother fall in love. It's a weirdly old-fashioned love story and, boy, is Chris ever the stuff of teenage dreams: handsome, brilliant, chivalrous. But that's not what hooked me. It was the gothic female evil: the cold abusive grandmother, the cloying, manipulative mother. These witches seemed real and the book has stuck to me. I've since weaned myself off those Jolly Ranchers. I'm down to two packs a week, but I've never shaken my addiction to wicked women.

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CORNISH: Gillian Flynn talking about V.C. Andrews' "Flowers in the Attic" for our series, PG-13. Flynn's most recent novel is called "Gone Girl." You can find more PG-13 recommendations at our website, along with lists of good summer reads from our critics and correspondents. That's at NPRBooks.org.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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