Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson is a historical fiction dressed as a retelling. Inspired by the new Cruella movie, Hello, Cruel Heart is her origin story.
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?
“Estella was a visionary. A genius if she was being honest.”
To call this a retelling of Cruella is a bit of a stretch if I’m being honest. This is fully a historical fiction novel, with the concept of Cruella as an afterthought. This is very clearly a setup to be directly connected with the new Cruella movie, which is fine. However, it doesn’t feel like a retelling or an origin story by any means. This book is about a girl who sometimes feels mean (and calls that Cruella). She is a thief and a fashion designer. She has her sights on something bigger, and better than what she has.
“How do you exist?” he asked, his tone incredulous. “You mad, mad thing.”
While the story was relatively long (based on the page information from good reads), it felt like a small part of a larger story. This seemed like a drawn-out explanation, for not much pay off in the final chapter. The pacing of the book was strange, and while I’ve often liked Johnson’s writing for being cut and dry, this missed the mark. None of the characters in this book are particularly likable. Estella’s mother’s death happened so quickly I had to read it twice. The way things ended left me more confused, and feeling like I deserved more from the amount of reading I did.
“Because by all means, darling, maintain that bloodline. That family tree of yours, well, the branches are quite short, aren’t they?”
I really wanted to like this book. The cover alone was beautiful. However, I kept waiting for the story to reveal itself as the beginning of Cruella’s story. I never got that satisfaction. If this had been marketed as historical fiction, about a girl who tries to make it in the ranks of the elite while balancing a life of crime- it would have a higher rating from me. Unfortunately, this story allowed itself to pretend to be one thing when it really was something entirely different. This is a huge pet peeve of mine and took away from my enjoyment.
“Strong people -geniuses- they work alone. They believe in no one and nothing but themselves.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.