Cover Image: American Girls

American Girls

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Member Reviews

Jessica Roy narrates the true story of two sisters Sam and Lori, raised by devout Jehovah's Witness parents and victims of sexual abuse, who both end up in violent, abusive relationships. Sam and her husband move to Syria and join ISIS--and her sister tries to help her get back to the USA.

Interesting and sad story, but the journalistic style didn't make the story personal as we really didn't get into the minds and feelings of these women, which would have made it more compelling for me.

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From Jehovah’s Witness to Isis seems like an enormous leap.

Or it did to me, at least, until I read this book.

For young women who have grown up conditioned by the kind of religious extremism that treats all females like property, going from one to the other isn’t much more than a baby step.

Author Jessica Roy does a masterful job with this narrative nonfiction story of two American sisters who rebelled against their parents’ stifling, controlling Christian religion, only to be caught up in their eventual husbands’ equally stifling and controlling Islamic religious extremism.

I found this story fascinating, appalling, informative, and engaging. It’s a profound statement about what happens when we teach girls that their value is decided by the men in their lives. When their autonomy is stripped away at the start, how can we ever expect them to survive, much less thrive?

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In this morally complex and occasionally dark biographical memoir, Jessica Roy follows the story of sisters Sam and Lori Sally, their exploits, and their incredibly rough childhoods, young adulthoods, adulthoods, and relationships, eventually getting to the point when Sam’s husband takes her and their children to ISIS, where he (and Sam’s son) become indoctrinated and weaponized for the cause. This book deals with several dark, heavy, intense subjects, not least of which is ISIS, throughout the entire book, so trigger and content warnings abound. All a true story, Roy handles these hard topics well, attempting to give some benefit of the doubt to the sisters and their recollections of the narrative she covers in this book. While not a happy or enjoyable read, Roy deals with these topics and narratives in an appropriate way and presents the information in digestible, clear terms. Readers may not necessarily find joy in this book (given its subject material), but it is an important, though difficult, read for those who seek to understand indoctrination, terrorism, and the psychology behind long-term chronic abuse and abusive relationships (especially those that begin in childhood). Roy’s latest book is a powerful, heartbreaking, difficult read that remains, unfortunately, relevant throughout the twenty-first century.

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This was a difficult book to read because of the content and the jumping around of the timeline in the storytelling. At times, I could not believe I was actually reading a true story. It reads more like a thriller, but it is a true account. I would recommend reading it for the content - the details about how this all started, what happened, and how it ended are very interesting, if sometimes overwhelming. It offers a profound insight into the mentalities of people involved in ISIS and how they operate to get and keep members.

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I really wanted to like this book. The premise of finding out how an American gets brainwashed into joining ISIS and moves his family to a country at war, while his wife and children try to survive, and a sister works tirelessly to save her sister from this situation, sounded like a great book. I still think it's a story worth telling. I just don't think it's presented well.

The book starts out looking at the early life of sisters Lori and Sam. It explores their very rough upbringing, shining a light on the Jehovah’s Witness community they were raised in. I enjoyed the look into the religious aspect of their life. I think explaining their upbringing is very important to the story. But for me, it was explained in too many words.

There was also a lot of jumping around in the timeline and it was hard to follow. The transitions weren't well done. Sometimes I would have to go back and read something over again to try and figure out if we were talking about the present or some prior time. It was confusing to say the least.

I never made it past this look into their early lives to get to the meat of the story. Maybe the main story is told well, but I just couldn't make it through enough of the book to get there. I think some editing of the first part of the book would make a huge difference in readability. As it stands, it's hard to read and the pacing is very slow.

Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy of this book!

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I received a hard copy of this book so I have not downloaded it here.

Will update with a review once I finish the book.

Thank you St Martin's Press for a physical ARC and finished copy.

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WOW! This reads like a thriller but is in fact, very true. The story of these two sisters and the trajectory of their lives had me on the edge of my seat. My only wish is that this was a bit longer to spend more time through each section of their lives.

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This was an incredibly disturbing book to read and is difficult to rate. Sam and Lori grew up in Arkansas with their parents, both Jehovah’s Witnesses. The girls suffered neglect and abuse throughout their childhood and that, along with intense poverty, led them to make very poor decisions over and over. as young adults. In their 20s, they married two brothers, and the abuse escalated. Eventually, Sam and her husband and young son travel to Syria in order for the husband to fight for ISIS. The book was partly the girls’ stories and partly results of research into abuse, neglect, and terrorism. I must admit I skimmed over the more graphic sections as well as the ones about various studies, because I was more interested in the sisters’ stories. Thank-you to NetGalley,
Scribner Books, and Ms. Roy for the ARC of this title.

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Loved this! I've been so interested in this story since the first season of the I'm Not a Monster podcast (unrelated to this book/author) and I could not have wanted to read this more! The author does such an excellent, in-depth job of reporting this story, and added the interesting perspective of her interviews with Sam Sally's sister Lori. It also included a lot of psychological and social analysis to help explain why Sam may have been susceptible to both a controlling. abusive partner as well as the messaging of IS. It doesn't let her off the hook whatsoever though. Difficult to read at times due to the abuse both sisters experienced but it still manages to be completely page-turning and a very important, considered study.

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This was a fascinating read and even more so because it is a true story. Roy did a great job researching it, explaining bias and motivation and the generational trauma of abuse. It reads like fiction, i.e. suspense and one can imagine a film version of it being produced. I thought the mixture of story and commentary was perfect and it is one of those books that is very difficult to put down until the very last page. It also sheds light on a part of the world that most of us aren't familiar with. It would be a very meaty choice for a book club as well.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. I predict it will do very well.

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This book is extremely well done as far as writing, story-telling, and detail. But, be warned, the content is extremely disturbing. I have had an awful life, so I'm not one to be easily disturbed, but the content of these girls' lives was horrific. Extreme religious indoctrination by parents (Jehovah Witness), extreme religious guilt and obsession by parents, extreme poverty, almost zero education, lowest level jobs, constant housing insecurity. It's near impossible to make anything good of the life these girls were dealt. It's no wonder at all Samantha ended up going deeper and deeper, making things worse and worse. The story is tragic and truly so sad, but the way the journalist did the book is excellent. For the author, I give 5 stars.

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I know I've been told that sister relationships can be complicated, but the story of the Sally sisters might have broken my brain. Jessica Roy's excellent American Girls tells the story of how older sister Sam ends up following her husband as he joins ISIS in the Middle East and how her younger sister Lori tries to bring her home.

If this were fiction, you would throw this book out the window halfway through for straining credulity. And yet, this is all true. Roy tells the story starting with their trauma filled childhood up to the present day. If Roy just told the most basic facts of the story then this would be very good book. However, Roy goes the extra mile and provides context around how trauma, money, and manipulation can lead down some very dark roads. I know when I read true crime, I often find the author isn't necessarily interested in the "why" of the story or they are convinced they know the answer and present it as fact. Roy threads this needle. She doesn't preach. She merely provides short glimpses of studies which can apply to the sister's actions but does not condone or excuse any of the decisions made in the story.

And some of these decisions are particularly mind-boggling. Roy is working with an unreliable narrator in at least one case and makes sure the reader is clear about what can be taken at face value and what can be taken with a mountain sized grain of salt. It's these specific instances where Roy's journalistic background becomes clear and it makes the story that much better. This is a great read.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Scribner Books.)

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Jessica Roy has written a thriller of a non fiction account of two young women raised as Jehovah’s Witness in Arkansas, As teens, Lori and Sam Sally quickly escape from the strict religious upbringing and experience chaos and violence as they try to scrape out an existence.

Roy painstakingly details the steps and choices the sisters make until one finds herself following her radicalized husband down a rabbit hole leading to ISIS. Ultimately living without a country in terrorist camp in Syria. This is a story of every impoverished woman in some ways, and I urge you to read it. #Scribner #AmericanGirls #JessicaRoy

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