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

Legacy Lit. Jun. 2023. 256p. ISBN 9780306826917. $29. SOC SCI
Bustle editor Leach’s debut is an intimate picture of three friends—Elissa, Alyssa, and Alissa—and their tragic deaths before the age of 30. It is also a scathing exposé of the troubled-teen industry, a system of underregulated residential youth programs aimed at struggling teenagers. The book explains the detrimental effects that one such boarding school had on the three subjects of this book and other young women. Readers will learn that Elissa was Leach’s childhood friend who became a rebellious teenager. She was sent to Ponca Pines Academy, a privately owned rehabilitation boarding center, where she met Alyssa and Alissa. Through untold hours of research and dedicated interviews with the girls’ families and friends, the author recounts the struggles and trauma they endured at the school, including isolation, verbal abuse, and pseudo-scientific therapies. Each resisted the program in their own way, often with drugs, sex, and alcohol, and coping mechanisms more profound after graduating.
VERDICT An intimate, moving narrative peppered with harsh statistics, love, angst, and the author’s own admirable vulnerability.
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