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Lost in the Stacks: American Girls

Once the Sally sisters laughed and played together, roaming the grasslands around their Arkansas home in search of adventure. Older sister Sam was impulsive, charming and tough, while younger sister Lori was quieter and fiercely protective. But in the spring of 2015 the sisters were separated emotionally and geographically as much as they had ever been. After years of enduring domestic abuse and poverty, Lori finally found stability in a decent job and a supportive relationship in Indiana. Sam was being beaten, tortured and raped in an ISIS-controlled prison in Raqqa, Syria. 

American GirlsFor years, the Sally sisters led almost parallel lives. Both experienced childhood sexual abuse, rape and inadequate education. As young women they drifted from one minimum-wage job to another, from one abusive relationship to another. But their lives took dramatically different turns after the sisters met and married the Elhassani brothers, Jason and Moussa. Both men were violent and controlling. Lori eventually divorced Jason, but Sam stayed with Moussa, even after he became increasingly radicalized by ISIS propaganda. In 2014 Sam and Moussa moved to Syria so Moussa could fight for ISIS. 

Jessica Roy traces the Sally sisters’ journey from their childhood in Arkansas to Sam’s horrific experiences in Syria in American Girls: One Woman’s Journey into the Islamic State and Her Sister’s Fight to Bring Her Home. Roy convincingly argues that childhood trauma made Lori and Sam vulnerable to poor decision making and volatile relationships. Although Sam remains somewhat of a cipher – how much did she aid ISIS? - this is a harrowing story of trauma, survival and the bonds of sisterhood. 



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