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Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life [Kindle Edition]

Sandra Beasley
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.00
Kindle Price: $7.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews


“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

"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...

About the Author

SANDRA BEASLEY is the author of the poetry collections I Was the Jukebox, winner of the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Theories of Falling, which won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize. Her honors include a DCCAH Individual Artist Fellowship, the Friends of Literature Prize from the Poetry Foundation, and the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, Inc. She lives in Washington, D.C., where her prose has been featured in the Washington Post Magazine.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2424 KB
  • Print Length: 242 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307588122
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (July 12, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004J4WKSS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #572,655 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and educational without being preachy June 11, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It was with a bit of dread that I began to read this book. I've read many self told tales of misery and redemption over the years, and stopped choosing books of that genre as the overall tone became too self-absorbed ("No one else out of six billion people has had it worse than me."), self-promoting ("I cured myself and I can cure you, too!!") and a bit preachy ("If you don't do what I tell you, you will die a horrible, painful death."). What a delight it was when this book turned out to be so different.

With no shortage of humor and wit does the author give the story of her life with allergies. Some, such as dairy, pollens, eggs and nuts, are those we've all heard of. But honeydew melons? Cucumbers? It was interesting to see how some people have allergies to foods most of us would never even consider putting on a list of allergy inducing items. Her reactions to these items also ran the gamut from a mild reaction easily taken care of with Benadryl (which gets a huge plug in this book) or a race to the ER to prevent full anaphylactic shock. I also came away from this book with much more understanding of the isolation that must be felt by those with severe allergies. As a child, could you imagine how it would feel to be left out of a birthday party because the child's parents arranged for a petting zoo? I remember living in Michigan and taking a trip to the JIFFY factory, which as a third grader was very cool. As an adult, I can't imagine being the only child in all the third grade classes unable to go because of an allergy. Yet I don't feel pity for the author, but rather empathy, and I think that is one of the author's goals in writing this book.
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36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Witty & educational promo for Benadryl June 3, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I enjoyed reading Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley. The author's accounts of her challenges of coping with food allergies are ones in which I can relate, empathize, and laugh lest I cry. She intersperses historical and scientific information about allergies and vegetarianism and such in with her memoirs.

The author comes off very likable in the book, but before the end, I become very annoyed that she is still continuing to try eating in restaurants as she openly admits she has anaphylactic shock about half of the time; each time she is exposed to her allergen, she is chancing developing more allergies and even become a universal reactor (just look at the work by Doris Rapp, MD). She laments that others just don't understand about foods needing to be "Sandra-friendly" but doesn't see that she is the one that needs to understand how important it is and not risk her health and even her very life for the fleeting experience of eating at a restaurant. One cannot expect others to treat one better than one is treating themselves. The ultimate responsibility for one's health lies with yourself and really should not be placed recklessly in the hands of those that are less informed and probably care more about their own circumstances than ours.

Those of us with food allergies, intolerances, and/or sensitivities know that you must take the responsibility for being vigilant by always reconfirming the status of a menu item and addressing cross-contamination issues each and every time. Just because one time is a success doesn't mean that ordering the same thing at the same restaurant will be a success next time as your meal is only as safe as the cook, ingredients, kitchen, utensils, and waitperson was that particular time.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life on the other end of the wheeze July 3, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's tough to cook for people these days -- allergies galore, vegetarians, caffeine and sugar free folks, gluten sensitivities, lactose intolerances. It's easy to view all of this negatively, as if these overly fussy folks were willfully making our lives hard... and somehow perversely enjoying it.

But Sandra Beasley illuminates the terrors and complexities of the allergic life in such a winning way that you might just let go of your resentments. Until I read this book, I just couldn't imagine how allergies can shut down a person's life so completely. Ms. Beasley is allergic to everything you could imagine, from dairy foods, beef and shrimp to melons, mustard, cucumbers and nuts. "That's not somebody designed to survive, now, is it," opines a nutritionist in her fourth-grade class.

With humor and pathos, Ms. Beasley shows how allergies put many of the things we take for granted out of her reach. The food rituals of childhood that she couldn't share, the spontaneity of love that is denied her, the deadly perils that lie on every plate put before her. Her life is one tenuous day after another, her survival continually in the balance.

Ms. Beasley interweaves her personal story with research and data about allergies and allergic reactions. If you're not a fellow-sufferer, you might choose to skip over some of this very detailed information. But slow down when you come to her life story, because she tells it well.

I particularly cheered for Ms. Beasley when she goes alone to Galatoire's in the French Quarter of New Orleans and studies the menu carefully for something she can eat. A solicitous waiter assists her, and after a slight misstep, she has a meal to savor and remember. "The pleasure of each bite was intensified by the risk of trusting an unfamiliar city to take care of me," she writes. The reader comes away glad that she's being taken care of and that she is enjoying herself at last.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I ordered this book for a book club for nurses ...
I ordered this book for a book club for nurses and so far it is an insight to a person with multiple allergies. Interesting to read.
Published 2 months ago by Jamie Kieszling
2.0 out of 5 stars As a fellow highly food-allergic person, I found Beasley's ...
As a fellow highly food-allergic person, I found Beasley's advice/anecdotes to be fairly off the mark - both dismissive of those with allergies other than hers, and unreceptive to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by S. Graziano
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting look at food allergies
Sandra Beasley has a wide variety of food allergies- substances like wheat, milk, soy, and others can induce anaphalaxis if she ingests them, hives if she touches them. Read more
Published 3 months ago by LH422
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting. Gives you a lot of insight into the ...
Interesting. Gives you a lot of insight into the serverity of food allergies.
Published 8 months ago by Alysa G. Stringer
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect words from the wise for those with diary or egg allergies.
Pros: This book was exactly as the title claims. This is a book about the author's experience with life threatening food allergies. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jamie Plourde
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable book
An easy read, entertaining, and very informative.
Published 10 months ago by AmazonFan
5.0 out of 5 stars Birthday present
This is a book that was requested by a family member and she was extremely excited to receive it for her birthday. Arrived with time to spare in excellent shape.
Published 13 months ago by Mark and Kathy
3.0 out of 5 stars Veryhelpful facts about being allergic out in a non-allergic world
Sandra Beasly wrote simply about her life as an allergic child who has to function amongst a world of people who for the most part are not aware of the dangers an allergic person... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Roz G
4.0 out of 5 stars don't kill the birthday girl
As someone who suffers from allergies to over 14 types of food and even more environmental allergies, this book was a great read for information as well as comfort and confirmation... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Tiffany hopper
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a novel; loaded with good information too
As a parent of a child with food allergies, I try to stay up on current research, but it often is pretty thick reading (meaning boring). Read more
Published 14 months ago by A.
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More About the Author

Sandra Beasley is the author of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a memoir and cultural history of food allergies, as well as three poetry collections: Count the Waves; I Was the Jukebox, which won the 2009 Barnard Women Poetry Prize, selected by Joy Harjo; and Theories of Falling, which won the New Issues Poetry Prize judged by Marie Howe. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Believer, Tin House, and The Best American Poetry 2010. Her nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post Magazine, Oxford American, and Psychology Today.

Awards for her work includes a 2015 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, two fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers.

Beasley serves on the faculty of the low-residency MFA program at the University of Tampa. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she coordinates literary events for the Arts Club of Washington. For more information, please visit, follow her on Twitter @SandraBeasley, or check out her Author page on Facebook.


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