I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
What a cute summer romance!
In Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson, Olivia is sick of getting her heart broken. She vows to have a fun girls’ weekend with her best friend at a music festival, and not to pursue any romance while she’s there. Meanwhile, Toni is still grieving her father, and hopes that returning to his favorite music festival will make her feel connected to him one last time. When the two meet, however, sparks fly, and they both start to wonder if the other girl might give them a chance at something new.
Overall, I liked this, thanks largely to the two main characters. Tori is a little guarded, a little brittle still from the recent loss of her father. On the other hand, Olivia is passionate but a little selfish. Their dynamic was an interesting one, and Johnson did a good job showing the progression of their relationship. Of course, both girls made frustrating decisions several times, and the entire timeline seemed very quick (the whole story takes place over the course of about three days), but I suppose that’s teenage romance for you.
The other characters, mainly Imani and Peter, were good, but not particularly memorable to me. Not to say I didn’t like them; they just haven’t left much of an impression on me.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the music festival. It all feels very lively, and I could picture being there. It’s a setting full of promise and magic, and Johnson portrays it well.
Additionally, I liked the themes of learning how to be vulnerable and genuine. Both girls have a decent character development as they come to certain realizations about how they’ve been living so far. Olivia’s relationship with her best friend Imani is the main example of this—I liked how she came to understand how her tendency to constantly ask for emotional support without really giving any back is harmful. That’s an important message, especially for teens. And on Toni’s side, I liked seeing her learn that sharing your feelings doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as long as it’s with truly trustworthy people.
A small note I have, though, about this latter point, also involves a content warning. There’s a subplot about one of the girls dealing with the fallout of a previous relationship, in which an ex shared intimate pictures of the girl without her consent or knowledge. Johnson presents this with care and understanding toward the victim, though, but I wanted to point it out anyway.
In the end, Rise to the Sun was a fun read. The characters, dialogue, atmosphere, and themes are excellent. It didn’t strike me as the most realistic relationship in terms of pacing, but I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief. If you’re looking for a heartfelt love story with lots of diversity, look no further!
Overall rating: 8/10
Rise to the Sun will be published on July 6th, 2021!