29 September 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley

As someone that suffers from food and environmental allergies, when this book became available, I jumped at the chance to read it. Like the author, many foods cause anaphylaxis for me. Unlike the author, mine are all related to Oral Allergy Syndrome and I’m not allergic to near the number of things that she is. So, I’m coming from a place of mostly understanding while reading it. No one can explain the amount of panic that occurs when you realize your throat is closing up and your mouth is on fire from itching.

I’ll be honest and say that I was expecting a real “woe is me” tale here. I expected her to stomp her foot and want the entire world to revolve around her and her allergies and expect that all restaurants should ban beef just because she was in the area. I expected this to be one big whine fest with the author on a quest to ban tree nuts from the entire continent. We’ve all read books where the author is on a mission and I somehow thought this would be one of them.

Imagine my surprise when it was none of those things. Oh, she’s definitely a bit of an activist, but I think Sandra leads more to wanting people to understand and wanting restaurants to give full disclosure. What struck me the most is that while she has some REAL issues with food – seriously scary stuff – she understands that the world doesn’t revolve around her problems. She is understanding when she realizes that a chef cut cantaloupe with the same knife as her strawberries or whatever. Not once did I hear her rail against others, but it was more of internal monologue. She talked about how she needed to adapt her life to fit around others.

At the same time, you can tell that her friends and family genuinely appreciate the way she chooses to live her life. They try to make things that she can eat too, to cook around her allergies. I enjoyed hearing about her life, especially as a child. My allergies didn’t show up until adulthood, so it kind of made me also realize what the parents must go through of children who have serious food allergies – and multiple ones on top of that.

I also absolutely loved that she took time to go through some of the science of allergies – mast cells – proteins, etc etc. While I knew most of it, it felt really nice to have someone explain on it a “real life” level instead of using big words and making my eyes cross.

Most of all, I enjoyed her attitude, as I’ve mentioned. She truly has a great way of handling things and a great way of looking at the way she chooses to lead her life. I’d recommend this for anyone with allergies or for someone with a loved one in their lives that has allergies. It gives you a true look into what it’s like to live your daily life with severe food allergies. It’d be great for a fan of memoirs in general as well.

Like twelve million other Americans, Sandra Beasley suffers from food allergies. Her allergies—severe and lifelong—include dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard. Add to that mold, dust, grass and tree pollen, cigarette smoke, dogs, rabbits, horses, and wool, and it’s no wonder Sandra felt she had to live her life as “Allergy Girl.” When butter is deadly and eggs can make your throat swell shut, cupcakes and other treats of childhood are out of the question—and so Sandra’s mother used to warn guests against a toxic, frosting-tinged kiss with “Don’t kill the birthday girl!”

It may seem that such a person is “not really designed to survive,” as one blunt nutritionist declared while visiting Sandra’s fourth-grade class. But Sandra has not only survived, she’s thrived—now an essayist, editor, and award-winning poet, she has learned to navigate a world in which danger can lurk in an unassuming corn chip. Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is her story.

With candor, wit, and a journalist’s curiosity, Sandra draws on her own experiences while covering the scientific, cultural, and sociological terrain of allergies. She explains exactly what an allergy is, describes surviving a family reunion in heart-of-Texas beef country with her vegetarian sister, delves into how being allergic has affected her romantic relationships, exposes the dark side of Benadryl, explains how parents can work with schools to protect their allergic children, and details how people with allergies should advocate for themselves in a restaurant.

A compelling mix of memoir, cultural history, and science, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is mandatory reading for the millions of families navigating the world of allergies—and a not-to-be-missed literary treat for the rest of us.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Book count for 2011: 49

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.