Review: ‘Hello, Cruel Heart’ by Maureen Johnson Explores Cruella’s Teen Years Before Becoming a Disney Villain


Hello, Cruel Heart is inspired by the upcoming Walt Disney Studios live-action film, Cruella, serving as a prequel to the movie. Written by bestselling author Maureen Johnson, the new story centers on a teenage Estella, Cruella de Vil before she becomes the 1970’s Cruella we’ll see in the live-action film. Set in the summertime of 1967 London, 16 year old Estella wants nothing more than to become a fashion designer for all of London’s elite. She’s young, ambitious, and full of talent. Estella finds herself a petty criminal, stealing to survive with her makeshift family including Jasper and Horace who she meets upon her arrival in the big city.

How can Estella dedicate herself to joining the ranks of London’s design elite when she’s busy 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, indeed, 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?

This electric story vividly brings to life the swinging London scene of the late ’60s as Estella navigates the upper class world in which she’s fighting for a place. This fresh take on Cruella’s origin story is a fantastic twist that fans of the Disney villain won’t want to miss. Estella is all sharp wit and cleverness as she tries to win over Magda, Richard, and their crowd of rich friends who find every new fad boring within a week. The world is quickly evolving and ever changing, something Estella isn’t used to but learns to navigate and speaks to a side of Cruella’s character we’ve never seen. Before she became the “vampire bat,” as it’s put in the original animated film, she was fighting for survival and dreaming larger than life dreams about ruling the world of fashion.

Disney Press

Johnson also takes the opportunity to speak to the disparities between London’s elite rich and the less fortunate who do what they must to survive. It’s a stark contrast as Estella goes from living in a bombed out building they call ‘the Lair’ to the huge Moresby-Plum mansions, elegant restaurants, and extravagant parties. Along the way, Estella also finds herself romantically involved with a boy for the first time. It’s a complicated relationship with Estella struggling to open up to him. So much of her life feels secretive and she begins to let someone new in, but is that a wise decision? Throughout it all Cruella appears in a beautifully complex way that shines a light on how the young dreamer Estella will develop into the Cruella fans know. It’s a backstory to highlight that villains aren’t always born, they’re made by their circumstances.

Estella’s life is complex and full of adventure that keeps you engaged and wondering what will happen next while bringing the swinging London scene and this new upper-class world to life. Johnson also encompasses vivid descriptions of Estella’s fashion designs that’ll leave readers wishing they could own an Estella design of their own.

Hello, Cruel Heart is available now so pick up a copy from your local bookstore or order online now!

Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09

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