Thursday, July 7, 2011

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl

Publisher's Summary. 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.

Review. Peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches and children’s lunches used to be the go-to-meal for tikes everywhere. Today, however, peanut butter has become almost a contraband item. Schools are restricting where PBJ sandwiches can be eaten (as in peanut-free tables) or banning them all together because of peanut allergies. And peanuts aren’t the only culinary bad guys. The most common food allergens, known as the “Big 8”are (drum roll, please): wheat; eggs; soy; cow dairy; fish; shellfish; peanuts; and tree nuts (cashews, walnuts pecans, etc.). Over twelve million Americans suffer from food allergies and the number is rising.

Sandra Beaseley, author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl, suffers from severe food allergies, including some of the Big 8, plus other more unique allergens such as cucumbers, cantaloupe and mustard. Through the years, Beasley has experienced many anaphylactic shocks and many, more close calls, but Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is no Debbie Downer read. Rather the memoir is filled with humor, candor and information, sometimes all at the same time. For instance, Beasley shares how she dealt with school birthday parties:

Twelve hazelnuts. Precisely, twelve hazelnuts . . . . I would line them up in the pencil grove at the top of my desk and ask if anyone else wanted one. No one else ever wanted one.

I’d try to match the pacing of everyone else’s treat. Three hazelnuts as people licked off the frosting; three as people took huge bites of the moist, spongy cake; three as people licked the baking sleeves clean; . . . and three final nuts . . . as the teacher went around the room with the wastebasket to collect wrappers and napkins.

Beasley, however, is surprisingly balanced concerning the rights of the allergic versus the non-allergic. I say surprisingly, because I fully expected Beaseley, as a person with severe food allergies, to preach abstinence of certain foods in public to protect the highly allergic, but her arguments are far more nuanced and, hence, more compelling. As Beasley explains, “My job is to center on staying safe in this world, but my job is never to assume the world should revolve around keeping me safe.”

Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is a memoir that should be read by anyone who seeks a better understanding of a food allergies or just a great read!

Advance review copy provided courtesy of the publisher.


  1. I have this one too and definitely can't wait to read it!

  2. I know a little girl who is allergic to almost everything. Makes life scary for her, and her parents!

  3. This sounds really good to me. I bet it's tough being allergic to all of those things. Eating out must be a nightmare.

  4. That is a lot o_O I am so glad I do not have any allergies..well that I know of

  5. I don't have any good allergies, but this sounds like a really interesting read. I can't imagine having all those restrictions.

  6. What an interesting book, title, and story. I am definitely going to check it out. I am a new follower and would like to invite you to my blog for a visit and hopefully a follow back. Great review. Donna

  7. what an interesting memoir. I love the interplay of food and how allergies are at an all time high.

    Glad to hear you liked this one.