The protagonist of Omar El Akkad's American War, Sarat, is a woman who lives in the United States during a future civil war. Over the course of the novel, Sarat matures from a young child who is displaced into a refugee camp due to the civil war to an old woman whose life story becomes a challenge her nephew must face. Sarat changes throughout her story, and at times she is depicted as a vulnerable child, a rebellious young woman, and a family-oriented woman set on revenge.
Sarat comes to see herself as a protector of her family, influenced heavily by her upbringing. During the novel, she interacts with numerous female characters, her mother and her sister-in-law being the two most influential. Sarat sees each of them differently, primarily based on the hardships that each has faced (or not faced) due to their respective backgrounds and experiences. This becomes a source of tension between Sarat and her sister-in-law, Karina, later in the novel.
In an interview with the University of Portland's English department, Omar El Akkad said that many of the most important characters in his novels are women. In the case of American War, he was interested in telling the story of rebellion and war through a woman's perspective because war stories are so often told from the perspectives of men.