cover image The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia

The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia

Samantha Leach. Legacy Lit, $29 (288p) ISBN 978-0-306-82691-7

Bustle editor-at-large Leach debuts with a deeply personal investigation into the tragic fate of her childhood friend, Elissa, and the role the “Troubled Teen Industry” played in her death at age 18. Like the female celebrities she emulated (Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian), Elissa was a wealthy suburban teenager who partied, drank, and cultivated a “slutty reputation” to garner popularity. During her sophomore year of high school, Elissa’s parents transferred her to Arizona’s Spring Ridge Academy, the first stop in a string of therapeutic boarding schools that promised to curb her troubled behavior. The reality, according to Leach, is that these unregulated, for-profit institutions prey on wealthy parents’ anxieties while often exacerbating their children’s problems. Drawing on interviews with parents, friends, and acquaintances, Leach recounts in often harrowing detail how Elissa and two of her classmates, Alyssa and Alissa, ended up at Ponca Pines Academy in Nebraska, and details the circumstances that would see all three die before turning 27 (Alyssa overdosed on heroin; Elissa and Alissa both succumbed to illnesses that may have been linked to their addictions). Noting that as many as 50,000 teenagers enter the Troubled Teen Industry each year, Leach also profiles activists who are fighting to uncover its abuses and incisively analyzes the “societal pressures” placed on upper-middle-class girls in America. It’s a searing exposé. (June)