Thursday, August 18, 2011

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life is a memoir by Sandra Beasley, who previously published two poetry collections, about living with severe and lifelong allergies that include: dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard. Right from the introduction of her memoir Beasley writes "those with food allergies aren't victims. We're people who- for better or for worse- experience the world in a slightly different way. This is not a story of how we die. These are the stories of how we live." This positivity is consistent throughout the book in a way that was very refreshing. It would be easy for a person who has so much added burden in life to complain and whine about how difficult things are, but Don't Kill the Birthday Girl is not a call for pity, instead it is a look into what life is like with multiple fatal allergies, as well as the science and history behind the study of allergies.

Beasley does an expert job smoothly weaving personal anecdote with scientific study in an easy to read way resulting a book that merges memoir and non-fiction perfectly. It is actually a style of writing I encountered, awkwardly, earlier this year in Lonely by Emily White but in this case Beasley manages to make her science approachable to average reader. She also avoids listing an overwhelming number of statistics, which was greatly appreciated as when it comes to allergies there certainly are plenty, but it's not really what I am are looking for when I pick up recreational reading. What I loved so much about Don't Kill the Birthday Girl was that although I never felt like I was learning, I came away from the book both more knowledgeable and more compassionate about food allergies.

As somebody who has always suffered from many environmental allergies including pollen, dust, mold and basically every animal ever, there were many days going through boxes of tissues, with a bright red nose and itchy eyes and dosed up on antihistamines that left me drowsy- sometimes caused by nothing more than a nice spring day or sitting next to somebody with a cat- that I wished for a food allergy, something easy to avoid. After reading Don't Kill the Birthday Girl, in which a kiss on the cheek from somebody who just ate a cupcake leaves hives in a lip-shape across Beasley's cheek, a trip to the movies requires Benadryl because of nearby buttered popcorn, and a first date at a new restaurant can mean a trip to the hospital, that I truly understand how lucky I am.

As an individual with celiac disease, I was curious if the illness, though not an allergy but also an illness triggered by certain foods, would appear in Don't Kill the Birthday Girl. Although the focus was of course allergy, there were several mentions of celiac disease. The first paragraph in which it appears made me clench my jaw with concern for the rest of the book, as it says "in acute cases, the severity of the reaction demands zero tolerance for exposure" when in fact all cases of celiac disease require no gluten at all in the diet including such demons as cross-contamination. Luckily, despite preparing myself for ranting about its portrayal, gluten and celiac disease appears regularly alongside food allergies when Beasley is talking about dining out and social situations in the rest of the book. 

There are so many issues people with allergies face outside of just staying alive and Beasley enlightens the reader about them in a way that is light and clever, while still getting the facts across. Don't Kill the Birthday Girl tackles everything from food on an airplane to traveling internationally to dealing with weddings and birthdays. Beasley lets you in on what life was like growing up with so many allergies, especially before the main stream acceptance of them that has appeared more recently, and how she deals with accidental contamination, especially in social situations. She lets you know why so many allergic children hate using their epi-pens, and what it was like living in a collage dorm. Beasley ponders the longterm sacrifice that is required for shared living, both for her and any future spouse, as well as how she would raise her own children who may or may not have allergies, or may even have different allergies altogether. Throughout the course of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl it becomes clear that for those with life-threatening food allergies, it's not just a medical condition but a way of life- and although it may not be "normal" it is one Beasley lives with pride and exuberance, taking it one day of carefully prepared food at a time.

Release Date: July 12th 2011
Pages: 240
Buy the Book
Source: Publisher

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