Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Memoir and Much, Much More

A beautifully written and darkly funny journey through the world of the allergic.

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.

Jackie says:
"It was the title that caught me.  I was just going to skim through it to get an overview, but I quickly got pulled in by Beasley's honest and quirky writing style as well as the amazing amount of information that she's packed into this book.  I've been affiliated with the food industry for a big chunk of my life, and the issues covered in this book address that side of things, as well as the terrifying realities of living with multiple and severe food allergies.

Beasley really got the short end of the stick when it comes to allergies--the title refers to the idea that she can't even eat her own birthday cake at her parties, she can't even be kissed on the cheek by someone who did without getting a kiss shaped hive from it.  Her salad, cut up special for her but, alas, with a knife that had also been used to cut cheese leaves her curled up fighting for breath and consciousness on a secluded couch at a wedding reception.  Nightmare scenarios abound.  But she's got a great attitude about it, though she must always, always, always be hyper vigilant and questioning of just about everything to keep herself safe.  Despite all of this, she was a food writer for a couple of years, and she's very good about adding all sorts of background to the foods and why they cause allergic reactions in some, as well as just a general history of food that I found very interesting.

This book really opened my eyes to a whole lot of dangers and difficulties suffered by the allergic, and has increased my compassion level and sensitivity significantly. It's very well written, and very worthy of a read by just about everyone."

1 comment:

Tara said...

As a mom with a daughter with many food allergies, this really hits home. Another book for my reading list...thank you!