Cut Me Loose is a memoir of a girl who grew up in a strictly Orthodox Jewish household, who was forbidden to speak to boys, learned to suspect anything modern, had to cover up completely, wasn't allowed to be friends with non-Jewish girls, and who had focused her whole life on the ideal of getting married and having children in her late teens. Although Vincent sometimes struggled against these restraints, she believed in her community and desperately wanted the approval of her father. So, when she is cast out of the community for exchanging innocent letters with an Orthodox Jewish boy whilst staying with family in England, and later for wearing a sweater that was too tight, she is devastated. As her family continue to ignore her, Leah engages in riskier and riskier behaviour as a way to gain their attention and love, before finally coming to terms with her sexuality and the choices she can make for her own life.
I'm absolutely fascinated by what life must be like in strictly religious communities. I grew up in a completely non-religious household, and have never thought about religion as a factor when making decisions about my life, so I'm interested in those that do, as it seems so alien to me. As such, I found the beginning sections of Cut Me Loose, detailing Leah's childhood and expectations for the future, to be the most interesting. She had built her life around a very strict set of rules and marriage market (in which even being seen standing next to a boy would downgrade your prospects) and I was amazed at the extent to which she accepted them, even now when writing her memoir. Cut Me Loose reminded me just how much impact our childhood experiences have on us, and how hard it can be to break away from them.
Once Leah is unwelcome in her community, she finds herself alone in a big city, living on the poverty line. As she wasn't allowed to make friends with non-Jewish people, she is completely without a support network and feels desperately lonely. Eventually she decides that she might as well 'live up' to being exiled from her family, and starts to have a lot of sex with men who do not respect her. Having been bought up in a society where women defer to men and expect lower status, she has no clue how to negotiate modern relationships and lacks the confidence to say no; going along with what the men want in order to feel needed in some way. As you can imagine, this doesn't lead to happiness, and the rest of the book deals with Leah building a life for herself on her own terms, and learning to negotiate the world.
I breezed through Cut Me Loose in a few days, as it's well written and fast paced. Vincent's story is interesting and she captures all of the emotions she felt vividly. I felt as though the ending of the book was a bit rushed, as Leah goes from desperately despressed to a functioning adult in a happy relationship within what seems like a few pages. I'm sure that part of her journey would have been interesting to read about too. Still it's an interesting memoir to pick up if you're interested in religious communities or coming of age stories.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Published: January 2014
Score: 3.5 out of 5