Recommended Age: 15+
Genres: Romance, Drama
Tags: Crime, Diversity, Family, Music, Racism, Romance, Social media
- Moderate sexuality: Some kissing scenes and descriptions of sexual manipulation and violation of privacy.
- Moderate violence: Description of gun robbery, death, and gun violence.
- Mild language: Some swearing, including an F bomb, and racist comments.
“My church is the press of bodies together in the crowd, the pulse of a bass guitar vibrating under our feet, and a lead singer preaching the gospel of rebellion and revolution and love through beautiful harmonies and perfect chord progressions.”
Olivia has had a long history of messy break ups and she is determined to have one weekend with her best friend free of romance and heartbreak. But then she meets Toni, a talented singer, and they team up for a competition at a music festival. They may have thought they knew what to expect from their weekend full of live performances, camping, and carnival rides, but they never expected each other. Music has a way of connecting people and sparking potential that otherwise would have been overlooked, something that is clear to see in Rise to the Sun.
“Olivia is a melody that has made a song of my universe, and I realize I want to spend a long time trying to figure out all the notes.”
This author is so good at writing romance and realistic relationships. Her characters are always flawed and messy and big. They screw up, they fight for what they love, they rage against the universe for problems out of their control. It’s impossible not to feel deeply connected to her characters and their struggles, which is such a vital part of writing a successful book. Leah Johnson has a way of reaching out and lifting people up so they don’t feel quite so alone. She wants everyone to feel seen and heard. She shares her stories so other black queer girls can feel like the hero of their own story. The way she writes about music as a connecting force is so artistic, and definitely needed this year. Writing about music can be tricky, and she definitely pulls it off well.
A music festival is such a fun setting for a romance, and this is very much an opposites attract kind of story. Olivia is such a fun character, and just like a classic Taylor Swift song, she sees potential in every moment. It feels like she’s constantly on the brink of something amazing, which is a great way to live. If every moment counts, then you don’t want to waste it. Toni is much more cautious, and has so much talent and depth but is too scared to tap into it. They’ve both experienced trauma. Olivia has her asthma constantly trying to kill her and Toni struggles with panic attacks after her father’s death. But they show that they’re stronger when they let other people in and be their genuine selves instead of just being what other people expect.
Both characters grow so much and learn to accept themselves, flaws and all. I also love their best friends (who should ABSOLUTELY start dating). When you have two sets of best friends who try to combine into one group, there will be power struggles and shifting alliances and fights. It’s just life. But I appreciate how the drama in this book is very realistic. It’s caused by miscommunication and hurt feelings and secrets, and isn’t overplayed. Friendships are just as important as romance and there’s a good balance of that in this book.
This book is unapologetically loud, with thorough representation, a great love for music and connection, and realistic personal and family struggles. Leah Johnson is a wonderful author for anyone, but especially teens who feel ostracized for their differences. Reading should be an outlet for anyone who needs to feel included and understood, and Rise to the Sun accomplishes that.
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