Rise to the Sun: Review

Book cover for Rise to the Sun

Start: December 21, 2021

Finish: January 1, 2022

Synopsis:

From the author of You Should See Me in a Crown, Leah Johnson delivers a stunning novel about being brave enough to be true to yourself, and learning to find joy even when times are unimaginably dark.

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. 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. (via Bookshop.org)

Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Purchase here!


Happy New Year! 2020 and 2021 were stressful years (for obvious reasons), so I’m cautiously optimistic about 2022. Because of the pandemic and the rising cases in the US, I decided to spend New Year’s Eve at home, curled up with a book and a flute of champagne near me to celebrate the start of 2022. It was a perfect evening and I loved bringing in the new year that way. It also meant I could spend my time finishing my first book of 2022!

Rise to the Sun was one of my anticipated reads for 2021. (That will likely be a reoccurring theme for many of my reviews this year!) I enjoyed Leah Johnson’s debut novel You Should See Me in a Crown and when I heard her next book would essentially be a love letter to music festivals and queer, Black girls, I knew I needed to add it to my ‘TBR’ list. I wish I could say Rise to the Sun was the book closeted teenage Brittany needed and that I adored every single moment in the novel. But that’s sadly not true. Overall, I loved the feel of the music festival and some of the characters, but I think the short timeframe of the story hurt the narrative and I wasn’t deeply invested in the romantic relationship.

Rise to the Sun takes place over the course of a weekend at the fictional Farmland Music and Arts Festival in Georgia. In the acknowledgements section, Johnson says “I wrote this book about a world that I love…I owe a debt of gratitude to every song, every band, every Pinterest board that reminds me, always how powerful live music can be…” This power and appreciation of live music is beautifully woven into the narrative. From the first few chapters, I wanted to throw myself into this world or attend a real music festival to experience this type of connection at least once in my lifetime.

Despite the humidity, this is my favorite kind of scene at Farmland: the festival coming to life. The first day is full of newer and more indie artists, and the crowd always takes a while to fill out. But by the late afternoon, the whole place begins to hum with excitement. The food and merch vendors in the Core are fielding increasingly longer lines. Farmers are still bounding with the type of energy you have before you’ve spent three days in near-sweltering heat and the reality of being back home settles into your bones. The knowledge that for the new few days you have a place you belong.

It’s easily the strongest part of this story. The entire setting has an almost magical feel to it and it’s easy to understand why these characters build such strong connections with the festival.

I also throughly enjoyed the fun, near whimsical scavenger hunt. It reminded me of the prom competition that takes place in You Should See Me in a Crown and I have a strong feeling these strange, quirky games/competitions are a staple of Johnson’s writing which I certainly love. I did find the ending of the scavenger hunt subplot to be a bit lackluster. Towards the finale, it feels like the hunt falls by the wayside and then swiftly comes back with no real set up or satisfactory conclusion. But I still liked it’s inclusion as it added to the overall light-hearted feel of the story.

The story is told from two different perspectives. Toni is a recent high-school graduate trying to piece her life back together after the sudden, tragic death of her father. Olivia is a rising senior who wants to get away to avoid a difficult situation that awaits her back at school. I didn’t mind Toni’s perspective and I think her growth was perfect, if a little rushed (but that’s because of the timeframe that I’ll get into momentarily.) Olivia though….I was frustrated with her. In some ways I should have loved Olivia’s story and growth. She’s a people-pleaser and a chameleon, particularly with the people she dates. She wants ‘Big Love’ but only seems to experience heartbreak after heartbreak. She’s also a TERRIBLE best friend. She arrives at the festival with her best friend Imani, who is always willing to drop whatever she’s doing to comfort Olivia after a breakup and Olivia promises it will be a best friend’s weekend.

“You can’t do what you always do,” she said, hesitating over the order button when we were buying our tickets on our phones. The dull yellow-ish light from the McDonald’s sign streamed through the window and illuminated the inside of the car. “When we get there, you have to promise me you won’t decide to spend the weekend hooking up with someone new.”

She looked at me with the type of openness Imani only ever allows herself when the two of us are together, and I knew what came next was going to be important. “This has to be a me-and-you thing, okay? A best friend weekend.”

Of course, stories need tension to push character out of their comfort zones and I expected tension between Imani and Olivia. But it was painful to read how self-centered Olivia was when it came to her supposed best friend. By the end of the story, I was rooting for Imani to give Olivia an earful before walking away forever. And again, I think the weekend timeframe works against their conflict because it felt like their fallout and resolution occurred in quick succession.

This is an average-length novel with just over 300 pages of story to read, yet the entire narrative felt rushed because it took place over 2 1/2 days. Because of the short time, the emotional connections had to be established and explored quickly with little breathing room. Toni and Olivia have their meet-cute and then immediately team up for the scavenger hunt and music performance. As the two continue to hang out, they both mention how the other is important to them or how they feel they feel a deep connection to the other. It’s difficult believing these two could fall in love over the course of a day. While I recognize I’m not the target audience, I still felt as if things moved too quickly. I think having the festival take place over a week or even two would allow Olivia and Toni to truly get to know each other and make their ‘love’ feel more believable. (That’s not to say I didn’t find their attraction to each other realistic.)

I’ll continue to read and support Leah Johnson and her work. Her books are important, particularly in the Young Adult genre that’s still so heavily white and straight. I wasn’t as impressed with Rise to the Sun as I was with You Should See Me in a Crown. It’s an average book for me and I think that’s okay. I’m certainly looking forward to Johnson’s next story even if this didn’t ‘wow’ me as much as I wanted it to.


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