With this prequel to the upcoming Disney movie, Cruella, and the pre-prequel to 101 Dalmations, Maureen Johnson gives us a fresh perspective on why Cruella turns out to be Cruella. From the start of her journey, Estella navigates traumatic loss while struggling to find her way. Throughout the story, Estella grapples with the voice inside her head (Cruella) that mirrors that voice of self-reflection we all grapple with at times. Sometimes the voice casts doubt and sometimes it gives her strength.
Set in London, in 1967, Johnson weaves a tale of the swinging sixties that transports us back to the time in fits and starts. Referencing the Beatles and some other touchstones of the time place us there, but as a reader, I would have enjoyed much more detail about London at this time. Since it is a novel geared toward Young Adults in 2021, though, I believe that the level of detail was most likely sufficient.
Taking us through Estella’s journey to fit in while still remaining true to herself makes “Hello, Cruel Heart” a universal coming of age story with a twist. Since we already know who Estella ultimately becomes, the backstory is ever more humanizing for this character. I honestly have to say that I love Cruella even more than I did before reading this book and believe me, I already enjoyed the character immensely. I’ve always been drawn to the villains in the Disney canon.
If you are looking for a quick, light read that dives deeper into the character of Cruella De Vil, do not hesitate to pick up a copy of this book when it comes out in April 2021.