April 13, 2021
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Photo credit: Disney Publishing

By Yeymy Garcia, Senior Editor

With “Cruella” arriving in May, “Hello, Cruel Heart” arrives in the midst of live-action remakes of the revival era in Disney filmmaking. But don’t get your hopes too high if you expect this novel to be a direct tie-in to the upcoming film. 

Author Maureen Johnson introduces us to Estella, a 16-year-old orphan who makes a living off of stealing on the streets in London, 1967. She lives in an abandoned house she calls the Lair with fellow orphans Horace and Jasper, and together barely steals enough money for food. 

One day, Estella meets rich siblings Magda and Richard Moresby-Plum, who take her in and help Estella realize her dreams of becoming a fashion designer. They help her network amongst their rich friends where she meets a boy in a band and falls in love for the first time. 

Everything is perfect for her until it all goes south in the last 92 pages of the 336-page book. 

The novel spends too much time leading up to the moment that’s supposed to explain why Estella gives in to her “cruel heart” and becomes Cruella to the point that the ending feels rushed. Stealing is her forte in the novel, and we get to see how talented she is at making clothes, but it doesn’t do enough to explain how Cruella becomes someone who kidnaps 101 dalmatians to make a coat out of their fur. 

However, as a young adult book mostly aimed at 12-18-year-olds, vagueness should be expected when going in to read it. It’s a book I would have enjoyed when I was in middle school back in 2009 when I was first getting into YA and reading Twilight for the first time. But as someone in my early twenties who was excited to see what makes Cruella evil, it was a bit disappointing. 

In the book, the author tries to show readers who, or what, “Cruella” is. It’s her alter-ego, a voice in her head telling her to be “evil” like a fashionable devil on her shoulder. But Cruella’s titular “cruel heart”  isn’t exactly portrayed enough, because it constantly shows up to protect her true self, Estella, from being intimidated. In other words, Cruella doesn’t allow Estella to take sh** from anyone who stands in the way of her success. She’s her own hero who stands up to the bullies that shamed her for being poor because she’s destined to be great and she shouldn’t settle for less. 

So, where does the murderous animal villain come from? 

As someone who has seen Cruella go full evil, this novel does not do enough to explain why she becomes a villain but provides a taste of what is to come from the Disney empire. After all, the film’s description is an exact retelling of the book with different names for her rich friends.

My favorite parts, however, were when we got to see Estella’s charismatic self, which closely resembles film adaptations of Cruella. She’s confident, loud, and will kill you with fake kindness. 

As a standalone, and if you didn’t know who Cruella de Vil is before reading the book, it works because you get to meet Estella before she is Cruella, before she morphs into the manic, dog-thirsty adult we know today.  The ending, even though it may be rushed, still leaves you wanting more. Now that she goes by Cruella, what happens next?

 If you want to find out what really makes Cruella evil, you may need to wait until May to get that answer. 
“Hello, Cruel Heart” will be available Apr. 6, 2021. “Cruella” is currently scheduled for release in theaters and Disney Plus May 28, 2021.

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