Book Reviews

Book Review – Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson

Review by
RJ Witherow

For Olivia Brooks, the three-day Farmland Music and Arts Festival represents the possibility of an exciting new experience and of winning a car in the #FoundatFarmland scavenger hunt. It’s also the only thing distracting her from an upcoming judicial hearing in which she’ll be asked to testify against her ex, who violated her trust in a deeply personal (not to mention illegal) way.

For Toni Foster, the festival represents a familiar stomping ground, full of bittersweet memories of her late musician father. The festival’s Golden Apple talent competition is also her last chance to perform on stage before she’s forced into the college, career and life her mother has chosen for her. 

When Olivia and Toni meet by chance on the first day of the festival and join forces to compete in their respective contests, neither girl is prepared for the whirlwind of emotion that Farmland has in store for them. 

Leah Johnson’s second novel, Rise to the Sun, is filled with evocative details of the music festival experience and moving descriptions of live music. Whether listening to a heartfelt acoustic practice at a campsite, dancing to EDM in a refurbished barn or performing under blinding stage lights, the characters’ love of music rings clear. The world of the novel feels particularly real and alive thanks to some fun cameos that readers of Johnson’s first book, You Should See Me in a Crown, will be excited to see. 

The book’s plot gains structure and momentum from the scavenger hunt and talent competitions, but Johnson is careful not to let the contests overwhelm the more sensitive struggles at the core of Olivia’s and Toni’s stories. Olivia is outgoing and friendly, but she frequently worries she’s “too much” for others. Toni has the talent to pursue her dreams, but she often pushes away the things she wants the most. Johnson makes excellent use of alternating perspectives to convey each girl’s complex and relatable interior life. As Olivia and Toni begin to fall for one another, the contrasting and complementary elements of their personalities make for a beautifully balanced love story.

Readers will find it impossible not to root for Olivia and Toni as they race to solve scavenger hunt clues, nail onstage performances and learn to trust each other with their hopes and fears. Rise to the Sun shines even brighter than Johnson’s dazzling debut.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Leah Johnson reveals why she included cameos from You Should See Me in a Crown in Rise to the Sun.

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