March 09, 2018 05:16 PM

Before the Disney movie full of wondrous planets, celestial beings and an all-star cast, A Wrinkle in Time was an award-winning book that caused a sensation.

Continuously in print since its first edition, the engaging book by Madeleine L’Engle has been translated into 40 languages and has sold more than 16 million copies to date.

The author, who passed away at 88 in 2007, drew on her complex childhood experience to write the novel; a young L’Engle found herself lonely and frequently isolated—something to which many of her characters can relate.

“She was shy and awkward and lonely,” says her 48-year-old granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis in PEOPLE’s The Complete Guide to a Wrinkle In Time special edition.

Her parents would move her frequently, and the pain of the abandonment was so great that “it formed her as a writer,” Voiklis says of her grandmother’s experiences.

Even though Wrinkle in Time is beloved—“I loved it…I just thought it was fantastical,” Reese Witherspoon, who plays Mrs. Whatsit, told Time—the novel did not immediately gain success.

The science fiction overtones scared off some publishers; other than her life, L’Engle also used Einstein’s theory of relativity as material. The novelist borrowed the fourth dimension from him, where time is entwined with space, and it was a small leap from there to create a fifth dimension. In Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle used the tesseract to help represent that dimension to her young-adult readers.

“She learned to write about universal truth even if she was hiding from it,” says Lena Roy, Voiklis’s sister.

While the book was being rejected by dozens of publishers (before being picked up by Farrar, Straus and Company in 1962), L’Engle and her husband, actor Hugh Franklin, who had a long-running role on All My Children, bought and ran a general store in Connecticut to support their young family.

A Wrinkle in Time
Atsushi Nishijima/© 2017 Disney

Despite her difficult childhood, L’Engle gained confidence as she grew up—today, her granddaughters describe her as regal.

“She knew how to walk into a room,” says Voiklis. “She would say that one of the great things about getting older is that you don’t lose the other ages.”

PEOPLE’s new special edition, The Complete Guide to A Wrinkle in Time,’with exclusive photos and interviews with all the stars, is out now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.

A Wrinkle in Time is now in theaters.

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