Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hello, Cruel Heart

Johnson, Maureen. Hello, Cruel Heart
April 6th 2021 by Disney Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1967, and London is swinging. Teen aged Estella can see all of the fun and fashion around her, but she's intent on pick pocketing and stealing what she needs from the stores, including Harrods and Liberty of London. Her sketchy past includes an uneasy childhood full of difficulties at school, self-esteem issues caused by her unusual black and white hair, and a mother who died mysteriously when Estella was 12. Luckily, Jasper and Horace, who were also on the streets, took her under their wing, and the trio lives in part of a bombed out building. Estella loves to sew, something she learned from her mother, and a chance meeting with rich twins Magda and Richard gives her a chance to do that. The twins frequent boutiques like Granny Takes a Trip, hang with other young socialites, and are friends with the members of an up-and-coming band, the Electric Teacup. Impressing Magda with her Heinz bean tin plastic dress (ala Andy Warhol), Estella soon becomes part of her inner circle, helping her with outfits, making things for Magda's friends, and fashioning statement pieces for the band's television premier. She feels a connection with Peter, the lyricist and guitar player for the band, and when he visits at the flat she shares with Jasper and Horace, her friends are angry that she has given away their location, and Estella moves in with Magda. Things go well for a while, and the band's premier is a success. Everyone loves Estella's fashions, and she slowly starts to get over her troubled past, a time during which she frequently relied on her alter ego, Cruella, to survive. After Magda finds out more information about Estella's former way of life, and the two get caught in an awkward situation at Harrods, Magda and Richard decide to travel to Morocco. Estella is not invited. Having interpreted comments of Peter's about traveling to the US on a band tour, Estella thinks she can go with him when she is kicked out of the twins' house. When she is disappointed in this, and reunites with Jasper and Horace, she comes up with a plan to get her revenge and start her life of crime.
Strengths: On, my goodness! This was absolutely not what I was expecting, but was fantastic! I knew that Johnson had an interest in London, after her descriptions in Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, and there's a brief dip into the 1960s culture in The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London #3), but... wow. The bombed out buildings in post war London, the description of fashions, the forays into the shops and streets at the time, the name dropping of celebrity neighbors like Mick and Marianne, the dilettante lifestyle; Johnson really, really needs to write a historical novel centering on a teen besotted by the Beatles! Even Estella's fall from grace is perfectly done, and I completely bought the end where we see her turning into the woman who becomes Cruella. Masterful. For fans of Disney, even better. 
Weaknesses: Estella's backstory with her mother and schooling are brief, so I didn't get a good feel for the emotional damage that apparently caused, but I didn't really care. I wish the cover were much more psychedelic and showed the fashions of the times more.
What I really think: I don't particularly care about the Cruella deVil connection of this one; the details of Carnaby Street era London are absolutely enthralling, and the story would stand alone even without that Disney background! The details are so good, in fact, that this would work for the 7th grade Decades Project-- did I know that the BBC had a fee for television usage and send detection teams around to see if people were watching television without a license? Wow. 

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