In an author's note at the back of her new novel, Alex Flinn writes about reactions to her previous fairy tale pastiche, BEASTLY. She was surprised to discover that, although her readers enjoyed the fairy tale elements (which included references to "Beauty and the Beast" and "Snow White and Rose Red"), they were unfamiliar with the source stories themselves. Flinn's theory? That today's readers only know the fairy tales that Disney or others have adapted into films. Determined to bring some of those lesser-known fairy tales to life, Flinn has done it again in CLOAKED, a witty, romantic send-up of tales ranging from "The Elves and the Shoemaker" to "The Frog Prince" to "The Seven Swans."
CLOAKED doesn't start in a castle or a forest cottage or any of the usual places you'd expect a fairy tale to begin. Instead, the story opens in a luxury Miami hotel. Our hero, Johnny, is not one of the jetsetters who stays at the hotel. He has one of the humblest jobs imaginable: he's a shoe repair guy, subject to the whims of Type A businesspeople who realize they have a hole in their sole minutes before their big meeting. Johnny's dad is not in the picture, and he and his mom barely manage to pay the rent on their tiny apartment. But Johnny knows one thing --- shoes --- and he has a secret aspiration to design his own.
So when beautiful teenaged Princess Victoriana of Aloria comes to stay at the hotel, Johnny figures this might be his big chance to get his first shoe designs on the feet of a real-life celebrity. It doesn't hurt that the princess is drop-dead gorgeous; it hurts even less that she seems to be into him, despite the best efforts of her security thugs. So when Victoriana asks Johnny to go on a crazy-sounding quest in exchange for untold riches and her hand in marriage, he'd be a fool to refuse, right?
Almost before he knows it, Johnny is off in search of a prince who's been cursed to become a frog. Equipped only with a magical wishing cloak and a pair of earbuds that allow him to talk to animals who were once human (and there are more of those than you might think), he heads off to the frog's last known address --- in the Florida Everglades. At first Johnny doesn't think twice about how his quest --- or his new relationship with Victoriana --- might affect his long-time best friend, Meg. But when she gets caught up in the adventure as well, Johnny is driven to understand what "true love" really means. If only he could stop being chased by giants long enough to figure it all out!
CLOAKED is a witty romp through fairyland, with enough real-world details to keep the novel current for today's teenagers. Both the humor and the adventure are painted in broad strokes, although the romance plot is handled with a good deal more grace and delicacy than the rest of the slapstick plot would lead one to believe. Along the way, Johnny is forced to consider the differences between fantasy and reality --- not with regard to talking animals and enchanted animals, but in the realm of romance and love. Even if readers don't recognize all of the fairy tales Flinn riffs on here, they'll still enjoy CLOAKED; after all, everyone knows magic, and true love, when they see them.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011