Bustle editor Samantha Leach and her childhood best friend, Elissa, met as infants in the suburbs of Providence. As seventh graders, they would steal drinks from bar mitzvahs and have boys over in Samantha's basement. But after one of their shared acts, Samantha was given a disciplinary warning by their private school while Elissa was dismissed altogether, and later sent away. Elissa died at eighteen years old. In Samantha's grief, she fixated on Elissa's last years at a therapeutic boarding school, eager to understand why their paths diverged. Samantha learned of Alyssa and Alissa, Elissa's closest friends at the school who shared both her name and penchant for partying, where drugs and alcohol became their norm. Four years after Elissa's death, Alyssa died, then Alissa at twenty-six. Samantha endeavors to understand why they ultimately met a shared, tragic fate that she was spared, in turn, offering a chilling account of the secret lives of young suburban women.
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 ... Leach moves the book beyond this fearless and thorough inventory of a complicated friendship ... [Has] the inevitability of a dark fairy-tale ending.
What begins as an intimate memorial grows to a scathing indictment of a teen rehabilitation system that the author describes as not only ineffective but deliberately predatory. Leach also provides the reader with an interesting insider perspective on social media as an aggregator and amplifier of shared grief. Leach is clearly passionate about her loss, but an overreliance on opinion, broad generalizations, and emotional conjecture conspire to undermine her objectivity, thereby sacrificing comprehensive balance.