The Trouble With the Troubled Teen Industry

The Trouble With the Troubled Teen Industry

Alex Merto In “The Elissas,” the journalist Samantha Leach recounts cases of addiction and death among America's most privileged class. Credit…Alex Merto June 1, 2023 When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission. THE ELISSAS: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia , by Samantha Leach Like the Furies and the Fates of Greek mythology, the subjects of Samantha Leach's “The Elissas” are troubled and troubling young women enacting a drama that feels both ancient and inevitable. If the addiction has ascended to the level of myth in America (and it's all too easy to argue that it has), then Elissa, Alyssa and Alissa are a familiar archetype: poor little rich girls, young and rebellious, their problems surely solvable by Daddy's money. In this smart and gripping debut, Leach refreshes a familiar heartbreak by weaving the stories of these three lost young women into a larger, more complicated and ultimately tragic narrative of a nation not so much losing the war on drugs as on a death march every bit as doomed as the last battles in Sparta. Of the three protagonists, Elissa is the only one Leach knew personally. Growing up together in the wealthy suburbs of Providence, R.I., Elissa and Samantha are virtually indistinguishable on the surface — privileged, white, Jewish daughters of divorced parents who enjoy the sweet eroticism of adolescent best friends, relishing in private jokes, talking on the phone at all hours and temporarily tattooing their combined initials on their wrists. Elissa is the schemer and instigator, Samantha the reluctant tag-along and keeper of secrets. “The further she pushed my elastic limits,” Leach writes, “the more outsized the reward.” Together they fare pretty well amid the social vagaries of middle school, despite a very American tension between the upper middle class (Leach's dad drives a Porsche) and the upper upper middle class (Elissa's family has old money). Beneath this minor socioeconomic disparity lies a much deeper in their friendship: codependency. In high school, both girls begin experimenting with boys, alcohol, drugs, but […]

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