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Review: Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl

December 11, 2011

Sandra Beasley is allergic to dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard.  Some of her allergies are so bad that a minute amount can cause a severe reaction.  When she was young, guests at her birthday parties were served cake (which she couldn’t have) and then told “don’t kill the birthday girl,” by kissing her – yes, a tiny amount of allergen from the lips of someone else could be enough to cause a reaction.

Beasley and her family had to learn, through trial and error, what she could and couldn’t eat and how to cope with reactions when they happened.  She is never without Benadryl, her inhaler, and an Epipen.  Social situations like parties, going out to eat, and traveling are particularly challenging, but through the years, she has found solutions that generally work for her. Even with that, figuring out if she can eat something is often a challenge.

Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life is Sandra Beasley‘s memoir and I kind of have mixed emotions about it.  The book is relatively short and it’s really a combination memoir and food allergy primer.  I really enjoyed Beasley’s writing and the stories she shared, but some of the allergy data was a little too scientific for me, and I’m not sure including it added anything to the book.  Readers who cope with allergies probably already know it and those who don’t may not be all that interested.

No one in my family suffers from food allergies and, until recently, I didn’t know anyone who had to cope with them.  Reading this book helped open my eyes further to just how daunting a task it is to deal with life threatening food allergies when other members of the family can eat the allergens.  Going out to eat is like crossing a minefield.

Overall, I did enjoy Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl, I just didn’t love it the way I expected to, since it’s a memoir.  The writing is solid and I enjoyed the conversational tone –  I just wanted a little more emotion, more anecdotes, and less science.    I do think readers who enjoy memoirs and/or have an interest in food allergies will find this a worthwhile read.

Review copy provided by Crown Publishing. I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
27 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2011 7:36 am

    My nephew (11 years old) has a few food allergies. My sister is vigilant – and rightly so because sometimes it seems people don’t take it seriously. I think this sounds like a good memoir but I’m with you in wanting less science for the reasons you mentioned. Love the title.

  2. December 11, 2011 7:37 am

    This sounds great for parents of kids with allergies. Actually my husband’s son almost died when he was a teen from an allergic reaction and now whenever he comes over it’s definitely a challenge in the food department!

  3. December 11, 2011 9:00 am

    I have this book, and will be reading it shortly. My family and I don’t have any food allergies, so I can imagine that I will probably feel a lot like you did about it. It will be interesting to compare our reactions. Very honest and candid review today. I really appreciated it!

  4. December 11, 2011 9:42 am

    I think I liked this one more than you did. The one place I thought the writing got a little dry was when she talked extensively about food labeling legislation. I was really in awe of her parents, though, how they managed to cope with this situation without turning her into a worrisome child.

  5. December 11, 2011 11:31 am

    I need to read this one. I can imagine it would be very hard to live with an allergy – I’ve never had to worry about it, but one of my good friends at VT once ate shrimp at a party we were all at. It was his first experience with seafood and we were hoping to make him have it often. That night, he started getting huge scary boils all over the face. He got horribly disfigured that we rushed him to the ER. The doctor gave him some medicine that helped and in a few hours, the symptoms began to fade away. But those few hours were very scary for us. He had never had an allergic reaction before, and it took a while for us to be able to understand what was happening. The doctor later told us that he better stay away from shellfish because the allergic reaction to that can usually be fatal.

  6. December 11, 2011 12:44 pm

    I work with someone who appears to be allergic to something new every week. I don’t think I want to read about someone who is too, however she might!

  7. December 11, 2011 1:57 pm

    I can’t say i know anyone with allergies like that either, sure my nephew can’t eat nuts, but he wont die from it

  8. December 11, 2011 2:20 pm

    My son has major food allergies and life threatening allergies to nuts. It is a minefield navigating the world of restaurants and school, always on your guard. I am glad that there are books like this bringing attention to food allergies. I have not read this one but have heard from a parent quoted in the book that her message was misconstrued in the book and made too look badly for parents of children with food allergies. There is some controversy related to this book and I’m passing on it.

  9. December 11, 2011 3:04 pm

    Allergies are really weird and horrible…as a teacher it was peanut allergies and parents of non allergic kids were up in arms over banning peanut butter in the cafeteria…the result was a peanut free zone…

    Lovely review…as usual…

  10. Page permalink
    December 11, 2011 4:52 pm

    I read that a few months ago and I have allergies, but I’m glad mine aren’t that bad.

  11. December 11, 2011 7:46 pm

    Definitely sounds like an interesting read, but I could see where the science-y part of it would be not as interesting.

  12. December 11, 2011 8:14 pm

    I didn’t have to worry about allergies for a long time…then I developed that wonderful peanut allergy later in life and have to be very careful to avoid them so it doesn’t worsen into something more quick reacting.

  13. December 11, 2011 8:22 pm

    I want to read this one and to be honest was expecting what you describe, a bit to scientic at times. I have allergies and it can be scary at times, especially when your careful and you react and you don’t know why.

  14. December 11, 2011 10:54 pm

    I was curious about this one. I have a good friend who’s daughter has many food related allergies. They are always taking her in for more testing.

  15. December 11, 2011 11:28 pm

    I should probably read this one. Gage still can’t have dairy (milk, cheese, butter, eggs) and it’s challenging since he’s supposed to start eating what we’re eating, but we’re eating all that stuff! I’m hoping (probably too optimistically, but what’s the harm in that?) that he’ll outgrow it so I really haven’t done a lot of research on the subject. Just enough to get me through the day. I don’t even want to think about if he doesn’t outgrow it. It’s hard being so vigilant.

  16. December 12, 2011 1:39 pm

    This one elicited a similar response in me. I definitely have a more conservative view on my son’s food allergies but I thought the book was interesting.

  17. December 12, 2011 1:41 pm

    I enjoyed this memoir, but probably skimmed over the science stuff (its been awhile since I read it so I can’t recall). It did give me a new appreciation for what it is like to suffer from a severe food allergy, so for insight alone I think it is a worthwhile read.

  18. December 12, 2011 2:52 pm

    I can’t imagine not being able to eat so many different kinds of food. I have a friend who has a glutten allergy and seeing what she can and cannot eat has been a big eye opener for me. I am not sure I would be able to keep up with the more scientific sounding aspects of this memoir either, but I am glad you at least were able to enjoy it regardless.

  19. December 12, 2011 5:12 pm

    When I got pregnant with my first child, I developed lactose intolerance (which is different from an allergy) and it started me reading labels and asking about food in restaurants–it would be so much harder to deal with an allergy! It’s hard enough avoiding dairy. My favorite thing of late is that Barnes and Noble has soy milk for their chai latte.

  20. December 12, 2011 9:44 pm

    now that is an interesting looking cupcake!

  21. December 12, 2011 9:52 pm

    I’ve been waiting to see a review of this one – it intrigued me but I kind of had a feeling it might not be as good as I would want it to be (if that makes sense!).

  22. December 13, 2011 11:07 am

    This sounds like an interesting read, though I’m sure I would agree with you about all the overly-scientific allergy data. An old friend of mine was severely allergic to fresh fruit (!), which is a little surprising but doesn’t seem that tricky on the surface . . . however, when we went out to eat, she would always have to scour the menu to make sure fruit wasn’t going to somehow wind up on her plate or hidden in a recipe.

  23. December 13, 2011 8:23 pm

    I’m hit or miss with memoirs…so I’m not sure if it’s one that I would read or not. But I did enjoy your review of this one 😀

  24. December 15, 2011 8:05 am

    I’ll skip this one. My husband is one of the lucky kids who grew out of most of his food allergies but as a toddler, it’s a wonder he could eat anything at all. I remember the conversation when his mom told me what all she had to go through to feed him.

  25. December 15, 2011 12:31 pm

    I think this would be a good read except for the scientific stuff. It should make more sense for the average reader. I’ve dealt with a fatal allergy to all nuts since I was a small child and it certainly is difficult. You can’t just pick up anything to eat and eating in restaurants is sure something that can instill fear when you can’t get a straight answer on what’s in something.

  26. December 16, 2011 2:06 am

    Whoa, I love the title. Between the title and the cover, though, I figured it would have a bit more of a comedic approach to it. Doesn’t sound like it does.

    I do not have anyone in my family currently experiencing any allergic reactions, thank goodness. I can only imagine the difficulty it causes, especially serious ones like this.

  27. December 17, 2011 4:01 pm

    A co-worker of mine was talking about this book a month or so back. She said it was quite interesting. I don’t know that I could read something like this as it would probably make me fearful of certain types of things.

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