American Girls: One Woman's Journey into the Islamic State and Her Sister's Fight to Bring Her Home (Hardcover)

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American Girls: One Woman's Journey into the Islamic State and Her Sister's Fight to Bring Her Home By Jessica Roy Cover Image

American Girls: One Woman's Journey into the Islamic State and Her Sister's Fight to Bring Her Home (Hardcover)


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A brilliant, deeply reported narrative about religious extremism, radicalization, and the bonds of family: the story of an American woman who traveled to ISIS-controlled Syria with her two children and extremist husband and the sister back home who worked tirelessly to help her escape.

Raised in a restrictive Jehovah’s Witness community in Arkansas, sisters Lori and Sam Sally spent their teens and twenties moving around the South and Midwest, working low-wage jobs and falling in and out of relationships. Caught in an eternal sibling rivalry—where younger, quieter Lori protected outgoing, reckless Sam—the two women eventually married a pair of brothers and settled down in Elkhart, Indiana, just around the corner from each other. And it was there that their lives totally diverged.

While Lori was ultimately able to leave her violent marriage, Sam was drawn deeper into hers—and deeper into the control of a husband who slowly radicalized, via the internet, into a jihadist. With their daughter and Sam’s child from a previous relationship, the couple moved to Raqqa, Syria, where Moussa fought for ISIS and Sam, who never even converted to Islam, attempted to survive and protect her children from airstrikes, extremist indoctrination, and the brutality of the ISIS system. In Raqqa, Sam’s oldest son appeared in several Islamic State propaganda videos, and she participated in ISIS’s practice of enslaving Yezidi women and children. Sam says her husband coerced her to move, but Lori—who quit her job and worked tirelessly to try get Sam out of Syria—isn’t so sure.

American Girls combines an in-depth examination of Sam and Lori's lives with on-the-ground reporting from Iraq, providing readers with a rare glimpse into the world of American women who join ISIS. Interweaving deeply reported narrative drama with expert analysis, the book explores how the subjugation and abuse experienced by women in the United States, women like Sam and Lori, are the same themes that enable the rise of patriarchal, extremist ideologies like the one espoused by ISIS.

Fascinating, resonant, and moving, American Girls is an unforgettable journey—from small-town Arkansas to Raqqa, from domestic abuse to a militant terrorist organization—all told through the extraordinary story of two close, complicated sisters.
Jessica Roy is a journalist and editor who splits her time between Paris and the United States. Previously, she served as the Digital Director of Elle magazine, where she oversaw content and strategy for the website. Jessica has also worked as a writer and editor at The Cut, Time, and The New York Observer, and is an adjunct professor at New York University, where she teaches writing and editing for digital platforms. 

Product Details ISBN: 9781982151317
ISBN-10: 1982151315
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: January 16th, 2024
Pages: 352
Language: English
Named a Best Book of the Year by ELLE
A CNN, NPR, and Today Show Most-Anticipated Book of 2024

“[American Girls] uses incisive, on-the-ground reporting to explore how, even through experiences with abusive partners, poverty, and religious extremism, it’s the bond of sisterhood that is perhaps most complicated of all.” —Elle Magazine

"A gripping read." —CNN Entertaiment

"The narrative at the heart of Jessica Roy’s American Girls is so remarkable it could have been scripted for Hollywood…[Roy] leans into the inherent drama of her tale, crafting American Girls as a stranger-than-fiction thriller." —New York Times Book Review

"Journalist Jessica Roy pulls us into a complicated and ultimately inspiring story about abuse, radicalization, and sisterhood… Thoughtful and poignant, American Girls ponders the effects of violence and extremism – in all its shapes, forms, and origins." —Apple Books

American Girls provides a rare look inside ISIS, which remains one of the most mysterious—and misunderstood—extremist ideologies of the early 21st century."
—NY Post

"A true and wrenching story of two sisters from Arkansas that pairs thought-provoking commentary with the drama and suspense of a novel.”
—Town & Country

"It’s hard to recall a more compelling modern depiction of how sisterhood functions as a magnet, causing two lives to attract and then repel one another again and again and again."
—Katie Couric Media

“Roy’s diligent research chronicles the rise of ISIS, Lori’s efforts to retrieve Sam from Syria, and Sam’s enigmatic narrative, portraying Sam as both victim and perpetrator of transgression – to what degree, Roy leaves to the reader. Timely and chilling.”

“Roy’s nuanced debut turns a psychological lens on convicted Islamic State supporter Samantha Sally and her sister, Lori....This is a thoughtful reframing of a sensational case.”
—Publishers Weekly

"The details are shocking, but Roy provides a chilling reminder that this could happen to anyone."

"Jessica Roy is at the height of her powers. A masterful storyteller and meticulous reporter, she applies her disciplinary expertise and deep well of empathy to the Sally sisters, and the result is a book that will first grip you and then change you."
—Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for New York magazine

American Girls is a riveting family love story: aching to find each other and a stable home, two traumatized sisters vault first into the arms of terrible men and from there into ISIS and existential, worldwide conflict. Lori and Sam are still lingering in my mind—and even more so, the larger context Roy has revealed with their story: the straight line between relationship violence and global terrorism; the riptide of trauma that has tugged the line of history so far out to sea. This book might read like a novel, but in reality it’s a true, game-changing contribution to 21st century political analysis.”
—Taylor Lorenz, author of Extremely Online

"As brilliantly told by Jessica Roy, the story of Samantha Sally and her sister Lori is as dramatic as a Hollywood script. But at its heart, this is a moving and universal portrait of sibling rivalry and sibling loyalty that will resonate with every reader."
—Nina Garcia, Editor-in-Chief, ELLE