Samantha Leach is the author of "The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia," which debuted in June 2023 and was one of Amazon's best nonfiction books that month.
The book traces the tragic journey of Leach's childhood best friend, Elissa, whom the author met when they attended a boarding school for troubled teens together and later died. Leach takes readers on this personal quest to uncover details about her lost friend's story and the fate of other women in her orbit. Through her investigation, she learns about the for-profit industry geared toward reforming wealthy teens.
It's a captivating read for any fan of thrillers, true crime and storylines about female friendships.
We asked Leach to share five of the best books she's read this year.
Round out your 2023 reading list with one of these gripping memoirs or novels.
Read along with "GMA" and join the conversation all month long on our Instagram account -- GMA Book Club and #GMABookClub.
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"The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia by Samantha Leach"
The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia by Samantha Leach
"Down the Drain" by Julia Fox
When Julia Fox's memoir was billed to me as the Neapolitan Novels meets the celebrity memoir, I was skeptical. (First off, I'm an Elena Ferrante fanatic. Second, how could such a feat be possible?!) But when I finally read "Down they Drain" -- in a feverish 48 hours, completely glued to the page -- I was proven wrong. Fox charts her life from her humble beginnings in Italy to her rough-and-tumble days in New York, and later, her ascent from downtown Manhattan "it girl" to worldwide phenomenon. But the beating heart of the book is the relationships she shares with her female friends, which truly are just as complicated and compelling as the one shared by Ferrante's Elena and Lila.
"Ordinary Human Failings" by Megan Nolan
Nolan's sophomore novel follows the Greens, an Irish family who have moved to London to escape the stigma of their daughter's teenage pregnancy and their son's alcoholism. But when a dead child is discovered in their new neighborhood, their lives are upended as the down-on-their-luck clan are turned into tabloid spectacles and scapegoats. It's a propulsive, gritty narrative, yet what I loved most was Nolan's deft and compassionate treatment of the addiction that is rampant throughout this book, particularly via the lens of intergenerational trauma.
"Monster" by John Gregory Dunne
"Monster" is the Hollywood manual I never knew existed. In 1988, John Gregory Dunne and his wife Joan Didion were asked to write a screenplay about late anchorwoman Jessica Savitch. Eight years later, they'd written 27 drafts, waged war with some of the industry's most storied producers, and ultimately made "Up Close and Personal," starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. This account of what it can take to get a film released is unflinching in its assessment of the entertainment industry, while still remaining one of the funniest books I read all year.
"Stay True" by Hua Hsu
There's been no shortage of tender, thoughtful books about the friendships shared between women. (Looking for one? See above.) So when I learned of "Stay True," I was drawn to its promise of depicting the intimate and lesser-explored dynamic between young men. Hsu meets Ken when he's 18, and at first glance they seem to have nothing in common. Hsu is the son of Taiwanese immigrants and loves making zines and shopping for records. Ken is a frat star whose Japanese American family has been in the U.S. for generations. But despite these differences, the two become best friends -- until Ken is senselessly murdered in a carjacking three years later. "Stay True" is Hsu's attempt to make sense of that senselessness, as well as commit their shared coming of age to the page.
"The Shards" by Bret Easton Ellis
In "The Shards," Ellis brings readers back to the scene of the crime: his teenage days in Los Angeles, which also served as the backdrop for "Less than Zero." But this time, a serial killer named the Trawler is targeting high schoolers throughout the city. Part psychological thriller, part biting satire, "The Shards" proves yet again that nobody writes adolescent obsession (and delusion) quite like Ellis.
Samantha Leach is the entertainment editor at large at Bustle. She has also written for The Cut, Harper's BAZAAR, Elle, and many other publications. "The Elissas" is her first book.