Thanks to NetGalley and Disney Press for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: April 6th, 2021
Synopsis: An electric new story of teenage Cruella de Vil in an original novel inspired by the upcoming Walt Disney Studios Live Action Film “Cruella.”
Swinging London, Summer 1967. Sixteen-year-old Estella, gifted with talent, ingenuity, and ambition, dreams of becoming a renowned fashion designer. But life seems intent on making sure her dreams never come true. Having arrived in London as a young girl, Estella now runs wild through the city streets with Jasper and Horace, amateur thieves who double as Estella’s makeshift family and partners-in-(petty)-crime. How can Estella dedicate herself to joining the ranks of the London design elite when she’s sewing endless costumes and designs for the trio’s heists?
When a chance encounter with Magda and Richard Moresby-Plum, two young scions of high society, vaults Estella into the world of the rich and famous, she begins to wonder if she might be destined for more after all. Suddenly, Estella’s days are filled with glamorous parties, exclusive eateries, flirtations with an up-and-coming rock star, and of course, the most cutting-edge fashions money can buy. But what is the true cost of keeping up with the fast crowd—and is it a price Estella is willing to pay? (Goodreads)
I love 101 Dalmatians, so when I heard there was to be a book coming out detailing Cruella’s origin story, and that it was going to be written by one of my favorite YA authors, I immediately became excited. While Hello, Cruel Heart definitely has it’s entertaining moments, it’s a bit rough around the edges at times, which makes it a mixed bag for me. Let me get the negatives out of the way, hopefully without giving too much away.
First, right at the beginning it’s revealed how Estella winds up on her own in London at the tender age of twelve. It involves an irritatingly mysterious scene that seems to end in her mother’s death (after being set upon by a Dalmatian), and Estella simply takes off. Even this early on in the story, it’s obvious Estella is a little, ahem, quirky, but her reaction just didn’t gel with me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it the entire time I was reading. This mystery is a huge plot hole that’s never brought up again, and it persistently kept buzzing around in my brain the rest of the time I was reading the book. I’m assuming there will be a sequel so this is somewhat forgivable as long as that pans out.
The other issue I had was how Johnson makes Cruella, Estella’s alter ego, I suppose in order to make Estella more sympathetic. While there are flashes of the Cruella personality, there aren’t really enough to make this work. I feel it’s an unnecessary plot device, and Estella on her own is actually enough for me. She’s insecure, yet bold, and while her moral compass is definitely skewed, given her living circumstances it’s understandable. Her artistry (and obsession) with fabric and fashion is vividly brought to life, and even knowing the villainess she’ll eventually become, I still found myself rooting for her.
The wild setting of swinging London in 1967 was utterly fantastic. I enjoyed the over-the-top personalities, and the wonderful descriptive details of of both the city and the fashion world. I also loved the dysfunctional family unit that’s made up of Estella, Jasper, and Horace. The boys are likable and surprisingly sweet at times. The ending is okay, in that it wraps up the immediate plot line, yet I was still unsatisfied due to that early mystery that surrounds Estella’s mother’s death. In the end, Hello Cruel Heart isn’t smooth sailing, but it’s a quick read, that has me willing to pick up a sequel.