Once upon a time in Miami, there lived a boy who dreamed of making shoes...

Aside from the whole Miami bit, it sounds like it could be straight out of Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm, right? Well, Alex Flinn is leading the charge (or at least she's up there in the front lines, holding a really big heraldic banner or something) in transforming fairy tales for the modern age, mashing them up to create fun new stories. With their origins in older fairy tales, books written by Alex Flinn always feel like you've read them before, back when you fell into her targeted demographic (or maybe it's just that she makes anyone with an appreciation for whimsy believe that they are, once again, in her targeted demographic), and that makes them feel cozy. Cloaked is her latest and it's quite charming.

Johnny and his mother run the shoe repair shop in a posh South Beach hotel, across from his best friend Meg and her family's coffee counter. Dad disappeared years ago and with financial difficulties aplenty, Johnny and his mom work night and day to keep themselves afloat. His dream is to become a famous shoe designer and he spends his free time (or what little there is of it between repair jobs) sketching masterpieces on heels. He's no flighty kid, though; Johnny knows that there's no such thing as magic and it's hard work that will get him someplace... hard work and maybe a lucky break. Enter the much-photographed partying Princess Victoriana. If she got photographed wearing his shoes, he could launch his career and she's scheduled to check in to his hotel, but how to get her the shoes? As the hotel prepares to cater to the princess's every whim, nothing could prepare Johnny for the Princess singling him out to ask for his help. She invites him up to her room and tells him a secret: her brother, the crown prince, has been turned into a frog by a witch. If the princess agrees to marry the evil son of a rival monarchy, the witch will change the prince back -- otherwise, the prince is doomed to be a frog until he's kissed by a girl with love in her heart. The princess insists that she can't even trust her personal bodyguards, as she fears that one of them is spying on her, and so she needs the help of one who is hard-working and loyal. Johnny is about ready to declare her totally insane when he accidentally makes use of a magic cloak given to him by the princess which transports him to any location he wishes. Suddenly, the world is full of magic and used-to-be-humans turned animals -- and Johnny will need a great deal of help from six swans, a rat, a fox, and his best friend Meg if he hopes to save the prince and achieve happily ever after... but is "happily ever after" even close to what he might expect?

For Cloaked, Flinn draws upon a number of classic fairy tales, many of which have fallen out of popular knowledge: "The Elves and the Shoemaker," "The Frog Prince," "The Six Swans," "The Golden Bird," "The Salad," and "The Fisherman and His Wife." It's unfortunate that the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog came out before this book, but so it goes. Little girls already knew the whole princess-kissing-a-frog outline and this simply returns to the roots of the tale. The other stories are threaded in for a delightful mix of flight and fancy, with the ultimate moral being that it really is hard-work and a good heart that will triumph over all. Meg is a wonderfully competent girl while Victoriana proves to have a great deal more substance than the paparazzi would have folks believe. Johnny is a winning hero, even if he isn't the stereotypical male lead that one tends to find in YA novels. (He isn't a brooding paranormal creature, for one.) Johnny is a young man who means well and works hard... just the kind of guy that those of us older than the intended teen readers would encourage our younger selves to sigh over, as he's sweet and caring even if he (like most boys) can be a little clueless. He's the stereotypical male best friend who too often doesn't get the girl... cute and sweet with a heart of gold and his only real stumbling comes from (a) trying to do the right thing or (b) having issues expressing his real feelings. Ah if only they were all so easy in real life... and all liked shoes to this degree.

Overall, the best description for Cloaked really is "charming," and I hope young adult/older-than-young-adult readers agree. This book is perfectly fine for even the younger teens, as there isn't really any objectionable content. Flinn's got a knack for updating classics (just check out Beastly, her previous book which is being made into a movie that hit theaters this past weekend) and I'm already looking forward to her next creation.

Please note that this isn't an entirely impartial review, as this book factors in to my professional world, but this is still a truthful review written in my personal space, so weight my opinion as you will.

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