Book Review: Rise to the Sun

Title: Rise to the Sun

Author: Leah Johnson

Pub. Date: July 6, 2021

Pages: 336

Pub: Scholastic Press

Genre: YA LGBTQ Contemporary

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️


Three days. Two girls. One life-changing music festival.

Olivia is an expert at falling in love . . . and at being dumped. But after the fallout from her last breakup has left her an outcast at school and at home, she’s determined to turn over a new leaf. A crush-free weekend at Farmland Music and Arts Festival with her best friend is just what she needs to get her mind off the senior year that awaits her.

Toni is one week away from starting college, and it’s the last place she wants to be. Unsure about who she wants to become and still reeling in the wake of the loss of her musician-turned-roadie father, she’s heading back to the music festival that changed his life in hopes that following in his footsteps will help her find her own way forward.

When the two arrive at Farmland, the last thing they expect is to realize that they’ll need to join forces in order to get what they’re searching for out of the weekend. As they work together, the festival becomes so much more complicated than they bargained for, and Olivia and Toni will find that they need each other, and music, more than they ever could have imagined.

Packed with irresistible romance and irrepressible heart, bestselling author Leah Johnson delivers a stunning and cinematic story about grief, love, and the remarkable power of music to heal and connect us all.

This will be a spoiler free review. Thank you to Scholastic Press for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’ll be honest – this book really wasn’t on my radar. I have Johnson’s debut You Should See Me In A Crown on my Kindle and I wanted to read it first before diving into her second YA. But when Scholastic offered to send me a copy – I figured why not.

I really had no expectations going into this book. I know people loved Johnson’s debut, so I was a little excited and the premise did sound pretty good. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this as much as I figured. Early on, I thought that this was going to be something that I ultimately really enjoyed and would recommend to a bunch of people. While I don’t think the book was wholly bad, and there are some really funny and adorable moments, my big complaints are the 3-day timeline, the insta-love element and I didn’t buy into the chemistry between Olivia and Toni.

I think the expedited timeline and insta-love go hand in hand. Unless there is some fantastical, magical, supernatural or something element that can provide a reason for insta-love – I’m not a fan. I’m a firm believer that in a contemporary setting, insta-love isn’t love. It’s lust.

And maybe I’m jaded and skeptical, but I also don’t believe in the ability to meet a person, and instantly form that kind of connection with them. So, I had a really hard time with Olivia and Toni’s chemistry. It all just happened so fast, and I didn’t really feel any connection to the two of them. It felt too easy, to quick.

As separate characters – I really enjoyed them. I enjoyed Toni’s backstory and arc a lot more than Olivia’s, but they are really unique and fun characters, full of layers and dimension. Olivia is a bit of a brat, and honestly, Imani’s outburst towards the end was much deserved. I spent most of the book really liking Olivia’s spunk, quirkiness and ability to dance to her own tune – and the self-doubt and self-consciousness was relatable. But towards the end, I wasn’t vibing with her as much. She really started to come across as a brat and the way she was treating people just kind of sucked.

Toni on the other hand – I could read a whole book about Toni and her conflicts. I actually kind of lowkey wish Toni had been the sole MC and Olivia was just a side character.  Between the heartfelt moments she had with her dad, the conflict and trauma surrounding him and her mother and expectations, Olivia bursting in and breaking down carefully guarded walls, and finding Truths – I think I would have really loved the book. All tied together with a love for music…

Olivia really just ended up turning me off.

I really wanted to love them as a pair, but I truly just didn’t buy into the connection and the feelings. It makes sense for Olivia since she’s the kind of person who falls head over heels in love at the drop of a hat every time. But Toni is so much more reserved, so I didn’t buy that it only took one day for Olivia to fracture and dismantle the walls Toni had erected in her mind, around her heart. I’m bummed that I didn’t love them together as much as I thought I might once I started reading.

I am glad I read this book though. I was excited to read You Should See Me In A Crown before, but now I’m even more so. Despite not fully loving this book, Johnson knows how to transport you into a story. I had no problems envisioning the setting, the characters – any of it. It truly played across my mind like a movie. I spread the book out across a couple of days, and I would read about 60 pages before going to bed. It was like watching a scene of a movie before nodding off. I loved that I was transported to this music festival – I felt like I was right there – and I also felt insanely jealous because now I want to go to a music festival. I loved the atmosphere and the vibe this book gave off. Even though I didn’t love it fully, it still left me with a warm kind of fuzzy feeling. I’m absolutely glad I read it, and I think you should check it out if you haven’t already. It just might be something that you end up really loving.

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