Chapter 16
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Once Upon a Time in South Beach

In Cloaked Alex Flinn puts a modern spin on some timeless tales

In Beastly, Y.A. author Alex Flinn used elements of classic tales such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “Snow White and Rose Red” to craft a modern parable about the difference between surface attractiveness and true beauty. Now with Cloaked, Flinn’s latest riff on fairy-tale themes, a handful of lesser-known narratives are fodder for a light-hearted adventure set principally in contemporary Miami and the Florida Keys. Combining features of “The Frog Prince,” “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” “The Six Swans,” and other stories, Flinn examines the ways in which appearances can be deceiving. In the process, she also manages to highlight the importance of virtues such as honesty, loyalty, and integrity.

Young protagonist Johnny works in his single mother’s shoe-repair shop inside a luxury hotel in the South Beach area. As he makes routine repairs to the boring shoes of businessmen, he dreams of becoming a successful international shoe designer. Or, as he says, “I may repair soles right now, but in my soul, I know I can do more.” He passes the time trading shoe-related quotations with his best friend, Meg, who works at the coffee shop next door. As Johnny puts it, for instance, George Bernard Shaw once quipped, “If a woman rebels against high-heeled shoes, she should take care to do it in a very smart hat.”

At the hotel one day, Johnny meets Princess Victoriana of Aloria, a globe-trotting party girl in search of her brother Philippe, who has been turned into a frog by the evil witch Sieglinde of Zalkenbourg. She earnestly beseeches his help to find her brother and promises to marry him as a reward. Once he is convinced that she’s not crazy and that magic is real, Johnny begins to envision a more comfortable life for himself and his mother, as well as the means to make his shoe-designing dream come true. Equipped with a magic cloak, one that can transport its wearer to anywhere he wishes in the blink of an eye, and a special hearing device that enables him to understand the speech of enchanted animals, Johnny sets off to follow the princess’s quest and fulfill his destiny.

He needs a lot of help from a colorful cast of characters. First there are the six talking swans who live in the hotel: Jimmy, Ernest, Margarita, Mallory, and the twins, Harry and Truman. Their father was the King of Key West, and their sister Caroline is the only person who can lift the enchantment and return them to their human forms. Then there’s Cornelius the wharf rat, who just might know how to find Philippe; and Todd the fox, who ended up on the wrong side of a magical fish and needs a drastic intervention to restore his freedom. Most importantly, there’s good old Meg, who provides Johnny with a lucky Irish ring and more than a few surprises along the way.

As the magical cloak whisks him from Florida to New York to Zalkenbourg and back, with unexpected stops in random bathtubs, trees, dumpsters, and graveyards, Johnny must use all his resources to defeat Sieglinde, her ruthless son Siegfried, and two blood-thirsty but clueless giants. Johnny is determined to complete his quest, but, as everyone knows, fairy tales tend to be a bit unpredictable. According to poet W. H. Auden, “The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.”. Readers who throw themselves into Cloaked should prepare to be enchanted.

Alex Flinn will read from and discuss Cloaked at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Brentwood on May 5 at 6:30 p.m.