I am a huge Disney fan, but I’ve never been all that interested in Cruella DeVil or the 101 Dalmatians movie(s). I’m not a big animal person (except for my pupper, of course), and I think the premise scared me as a child, so I never really returned to the film. I have seen the Glenn Close version a few times, however, and though she was fantastic in the role, the movie isn’t one I return to often. All that being said, Emma Stone is picking up the torch for the prequel/origin story Cruella that is coming out later this year, and this book, Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson is the prequel to that movie. It’s all a bit convoluted, but it was honestly Johnson’s name as the author that attracted me to this book, more than the protagonist. 13 Little Blue Envelopes is one of those books that has stayed with me, and though I haven’t read many books from her expansive list, I perk up every time I see her name.
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 disguises 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 whether 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?
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. As previously mentioned, I’m not a big Cruella DeVil fan, and I dragged my heels a little at diving into this story, but once I got invested in Estella’s story, I was curious to see where it went.
Estella’s origin story here is interesting and believable. You learn how Jasper and Horace come into her life, how into fashion she is and why she became so cruel. She truly was a girl who thought she was going places: She had made new friends, found love and was an in-demand designer, only to have everything taken away from her in one fell swoop. Her alter-ego, Cruella, is a little bit of a stretch, but I see what they were trying to do: It’s not like anyone would actually name their child Cruella.
I wish there was a connection to puppies or dogs somewhere along the line. I may be missing something from my vague memory of the movies, but Estella has a puppy that she loves in the book, and I really wish something had happened to her (along with everything else) that made her have no remorse for wanting to skin dogs later in life, because “just for the fashion” is not enough for me.
Maureen Johnson continues to impress with Hello, Cruel Heart. It’s nicely paced, the characters are fully developed and full of life, and Disney fans (or even fans of historical YA fiction) will really enjoy this story. I’m interested to see how it all plays out in the movie later this year, and I’m glad I was able to read this book first to get the whole picture.
“I take over from here. Just you and me. You could be something great, something those rich morons could never be. Trust me. I have never lied to you. I have always looked out for your best interests. See what happens when you ignore me? ‘All right, Cruella,’ Estella said out loud. ‘You win.'”—Maureen Johnson, Hello, Cruel Heart
Thank you to NetGalley and Disney Press for the advanced copy, and to Lucas George Wendt on Unsplash for the featured photo.