Review: Rise to the sun (Leah Johnson) | an incredibly relatable YA contemporary set at a music festival where two queer black teens find themselves—and each other!

After reading You should see me in a crown, I already knew Leah Johnson was one powerful human being. I mean, with a debut novel like that, I could only expect some more amazing novels from this author. And oh boy did she deliver with her sophomore novel, Rise to the sun! Following two girls across three days at a music festival, this is a story that will definitely hit close home for many, as it did for me!

Let’s just say Leah Johnson is already creating a brand for her books: relatable stories in which queer black teenagers find themselves and so much more! Well, before I already start rambling about why I loved this book here, let’s just take a look at what it’s about, shall we?

Rise to the sun by Leah Johnson
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release date: July 6th, 2021
Genre: Young adult, contemporary
Representation: black/bisexual and black/queer main characters, sapphic relationship
Trigger/Content warnings: death of a parent, grief, slut shaming, cyberbullying, shooting, gun violence, robbery, revenge porn, toxic relationship, trauma

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

Rise to the sun is definitely a story about love, whether that means finding it or discovering where and how it fits into your life. Both Toni and Olivia are so deeply relatable to the point it actually scared me at some point. Where Olivia doesn’t think she’s worthy of love, Toni struggles with the fear of getting hurt. I never thought I would get to see these two sides of me fall in love in a book but well, here we are! And let me let you in on a secret: it was everything.

It’s great to see how their perspectives on love and characters in general develop over the course of this book. Leah Johnson once again proves how good she is at crafting characters and their dynamics. From the start we have Olivia and her best friend Imani who are great together, and Toni and her best friend Peter who are the best as well. And then they all come together and we have amazing interactions that feel so real.

But also this: Toni and Olivia aren’t always Toni and Olivia. Yes, this book is primarily a romance between them, but they are so much at their own, too! The same is true for the main side characters (that sounds weird, but okay), Imani and Peter: you can truly view them as their own people, not just as some plot devices or part of some greater group!

(This is totally unrelated but I do need to mention that Mack from You should see me in a crown was there for like…five lines…BUT WHEN I TELL YOU I SCREAMED!! Such a full circle moment)

Leah Johnson, Rise to the sun (quoted from an advanced copy)

Another thing I can only admire about this author is the balance she creates between light and heavy moments. Rise to the sun is a fun YA contemporary, but it also deals with some very important subjects without making anything feel rushed. In fact, I really liked that it discussed things like grief and slut shaming while still remaining to be a lighter book!

Now, something I was definitely scared about when going into this book was the fact that it took place across three days. Listen, I LOVE stories that manage to do this right, but I also know that not making things feel rushed is a hard thing to master then. I am happy to say that Leah Johnson NAILED this! The pacing of this book was amazing! The character development was built up to, the story never felt boring while also not being too eventful, and Toni and Olivia’s feelings for each other didn’t feel rushed at all!

Speaking of the romance…this was unashamedly sapphic, which is always a good thing! I lived for these two together as it just felt so natural and come on. They’re so soft for each other! It was adorable to be honest. #Tolivia… #Olini… okay I hope you just get that they were amazing together, messiness and all!

And lastly, this story took some turns I definitely did NOT see coming. I won’t say anything more but I literally sat there like…damn.

Leah Johnson, Rise to the sun (quoted from an advanced copy)

Overall, Rise to the sun is an incredibly relatable YA contemporary in which two queer black teens find themselves—and each other! Leah Johnson found the perfect balance between the fun character dynamics and some of the more heavy (but important) discussions this book brings with it. I loved every second I spend with this book and thus can only tell you this: read! this! book!

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review! This did not affect my opinions in any way.


Only four more days left till this book is out in the world, y’all! Be sure to pre-order a copy while you still can because, as you probably noticed while reading this review, I don’t think you should miss out on this one! Let’s just hope I’ve been able to convince you to read it! Leah Johnson is definitely an author to watch, and I’m so glad I discovered her work this year, but what about you?

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8 thoughts on “Review: Rise to the sun (Leah Johnson) | an incredibly relatable YA contemporary set at a music festival where two queer black teens find themselves—and each other!

  1. I loved You Should See Me In A Crown and am very excited for this, and even more so after reading your review! I love when the dynamics between the characters are well developed and I’m really looking forward to reading this!

    Liked by 1 person

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