PAWTUCKET – Samantha Leach, former Pawtucket resident and current editor at Bustle, is preparing to release her first book, “The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia.”
Growing up on Dryden Avenue in Pawtucket, Leach said she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer.
“It felt like a really intangible dream, but it was the one dream I always had,” she said.
Now age 30, Leach says she’s living that fantasy as an editor at-large for Bustle, where her work graces magazine covers and her interview subjects are people most of us will only ever see on a screen.
Her first celebrity interview for Bustle was with Cazzie David, writer, comedian and daughter of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” creator Larry David.
Most recently, Leach met with Rachel McAdams to discuss her return to acting, an article that went viral and appeared in the New York Post’s Page Six.
Some other notable names Leach has interviewed include Zooey Deschanel, Charlie Puth, Dylan O’Brien, Camila Cabello, and Lily Collins.
While juggling editorial duties and high-profile interviews, Leach embarked on her own project: writing her debut novel titled “The Elissas,” the seemingly unbelievable but true story of Elissa, Alyssa and Alissa, three friends and victims of the troubled teen industry who all met the same fate of a short life.
The troubled teen industry is a network of largely unregulated private youth programs, like “therapeutic” boarding schools, rehab facilities and wilderness programs. These programs promise to reform wayward youth and correct behavioral issues, addictions, eating disorders and in some cases, attempt to change one’s sexual orientation.
The industry is infamous for accusations of abuse, and in 2014, survivors of the troubled teen industry started a movement called #BreakingCodeSilence where they share the traumas they endured.
In “The Elissas,” each chapter switches between Elissa, Alyssa and Alissa as Leach shares their stories from their childhoods to their deaths, her own personal experiences, and facts about adolescence, girlhood, addiction and the troubled teen industry.
“I began writing this book as a way to process my own grief,” said Leach. She had been friends with Elissa since they were infants.
Following Elissa’s sudden death in 2011 at age 18, Leach said she became fixated on her friend’s Facebook page, which led her to posts from Alyssa and Alissa, Elissa’s friends from the “therapeutic” boarding school the three attended.
“I was consumed with their relationships,” Leach said. Fascinated by the history and the “save our souls” tattoos the girls shared, Leach began doing research on them, their time at Poca Pines Academy, and beyond.
After she learned of Alyssa and Alissa’s deaths, Leach said she “realized there was a larger story that needed to be told… it felt like the story was choosing me.”
The book went from Leach telling her and Elissa’s stories to a semi-investigative non-fiction novel that offers “a chilling account of the secret lives of young suburban women.”
In an effort to understand Alyssa, Alissa and the troubled teen industry, Leach reached out to anyone and everyone she could contact, ultimately conducting more than 60 interviews with friends, family members, ex-boyfriends, classmates, teachers and more.
Through the interviews and the writing process, she was able to learn not only about Alyssa and Alissa, but about herself. She was able to acknowledge she is drawn to chaos and able to have difficult conversations, and she discovered that her grief is not shameful.
Leach told The Breeze that exposing her own vulnerabilities and secrets in the book was something she was initially intimidated by, but ended up being the least of her concerns.
“It was the last thing on my mind. The thing I was worried about was portraying these women on the page, to make it clear my intent was to honor them and to shed light on the real issues they faced,” she said.
Despite the heaviness of the story, Leach said one of the lighter aspects was getting to write about her childhood home in Pawtucket and growing up in Providence.
“I loved where I grew up, and I have a lot of Rhode Island pride … so that was a real treat for me,” she said.
“The Elissas,” published by Hachette Book Group, will be released June 6 and is available for pre-order now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart and the Hachette website.
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