In this intelligent and witty memoir, poet Beasley (I Was the Jukebox) recounts her lifelong struggle to live a normal life while waging a battle against deadly food allergies. The author is one of "more than 12 million Americans who have been diagnosed with food allergies, a figure that includes almost 4% of all children." The title of this enthralling book is not hyperbole. As little as a kiss or hug from a family member or a friend who had eaten cake or ice cream at a birthday party could cause Beasley to break out in hives or, worse, suffer anaphylactic shock. She calls sherbet "sweet, icy death in a bowl." Beasley details her vigilant parents' never-ending routine for keeping her safe during her childhood until she left for college, how she and her friends coped with "the thousand minor hassles of living with" her food allergies during college, and the perils of eating while traveling. Throughout this thoughtful and well-written book, Beasley closes the knowledge gap surrounding food allergies. She writes entertainingly about the history of allergies, and current research findings; religious issues surrounding food allergies; and processed foods and their hidden ingredients. (June)
"A sufferer's witty, sobering account of living with life-threatening food allergies." —People
“Charming…Beasley is a warm and lively guide to the quirky world of allergies… a vital call to arms for allergy awareness.” —Boston Globe
An “honest and amusing medical memoir that’s also a patient-written primer on food allergies. This birthday girl doesn’t kvetch, though she has every right to. She doesn’t consider herself a victim, just someone who has to experience the world differently from the rest of us.” —Washington Post
“Beasley shares surprisingly delightful stories about her own fraught relationship with food.” —Prevention
“An unself-pitying meditation on what it’s like to live without goodies most of us consider essential. What’s more, she somehow manages to make the whole thing hilarious.” —Self
"This information- and anecdote-filled book will be a welcome antidote to the worries and fears endured by families with food allergies."—Booklist
“Intelligent and witty…enthralling…thoughtful and well-written.” —Publishers Weekly
"Award winner Beasley (e.g., Barnard Women Poets) offers a cultural study of living the “allergic life.” —Library Journal
“Fascinating…humane and informative.” —Kirkus Reviews
"[A] fun read...Beasley is certainly inspiring to anyone who's suffered from allergies or other medical conditions that make you feel like you're on the outside looking in. But her memories of a supportive family who stuck with her through hard times, friends and lovers who accommodated her needs, and her narrative of independence and self-sufficiency will strike a chord with any reader—even those whose gustatory options are endless." —SeriousEats.com
"For readers who suffer from allergies, or care for someone who does, for parents who wonder why they can no longer send their child to school with the American staple, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or for anyone curious about how Sandra Beasley handles a lifelong challenge successfully, this book is for you. Winning, wise and humorous, you'll think twice when someone says, ‘Pass the peanuts.’” —Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of Don't Sing at the Table
“Sandra Beasley’s memoir—so bright and lucid and compelling, so intelligent and affecting—is even more than a gripping tale of living with numerous, potentially deadly allergies. Brilliantly combining her personal narrative with medical research and cultural analyses, Beasley’s memoir is ultimately an exploration of how we negotiate our vulnerable, permeable selves in a world that is filled equally with joy and harm.” —Richard McCann, author of Mother of Sorrows
"Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is much more than a compelling examination of food allergies—it’s a meditation on human fragility. Sandra Beasley has made visible the potential hazards of what so many of us take for granted and moves away from the body’s rejection of allergens into the story of what it means to live and love. In sparkling prose, Beasley has written a memoir that becomes a remarkable mélange—undeniably informative, and a real pleasure—both hip and wickedly smart." —Alex Lemon, author of Happy: A Memoir and Fancy Beasts
“Sandra Beasley's book is both hilarious and moving. It's about what it's like to live in fear of hidden parmesan, but it's also about teenage rebellion, romance and George Washington Carver. Recommended for everyone, no matter what their immune system is like.” —A.J. Jacobs, author of My Life as an Experiment and The Year of Living Biblically
“Don't Kill The Birthday Girl is a compelling and enlightening exploration of what life is like for someone with life threatening allergies. Thoughtful and witty but most important, educational, this book is a must read for anyone who has or knows someone with severe allergies—which means everyone.” —Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes and Carolina Moon
From the Hardcover edition.
Former American Scholar editor and award-winning poet Beasley's debut memoir is a fascinating—though at times disjointed—account of living with severe allergies.
The author's earliest recollections involved birthdays and the way they highlighted her difference from others. While her mother would give her "Sandra-friendly" treats, she would prepare a cake for everyone else and warn guests not to touch, kiss or hug her—hives, anaphylactic shock or death could be the unwelcome result.Needless to say, growing up sensitive to more than a dozen kinds of foods and 10 different kinds of animals and environmental elements was a huge challenge.From babyhood well into adolescence, Beasley and her parents never knew which foods would cause illness.Though her home environment could accommodate her condition, whenever she went out—to school, to friends' houses and restaurants—she could never be certain that the few foods she could safely eat hadn't been tainted with traces of what she couldn't.As a result, from the time she was in elementary school, she had to carry an adult-sized purse loaded with Benadryl, an EpiPen auto-injector and an inhaler.Speaking as the survivor of too-numerous-to-count trips to the emergency room, she writes "[t]here's a reason they're called allergy 'attacks'; you never knew where a food can be lurking." Interspersed with memories of the daily game of "Russian roulette" she was forced to play well into young adulthood are well-researched sections about such neglected topics as the history of allergy identification and treatment, as well as interesting anecdotes about the little-known social exclusions faced by people with allergies. However, Beasley seems to be trying to write two books in one: the first, about her life, and the second about an important topic (food allergies) that deserves greater attention than it has so far received.
Uneven but humane and informative.