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Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life Hardcover – July 12, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"A sufferer's witty, sobering account of living with life-threatening food allergies." —People

“Charming…Beasley is a warm and lively guide to the quirky world of allergies… a vital call to arms for allergy awareness.” —Boston Globe
An “honest and amusing medical memoir that’s also a patient-written primer on food allergies. This birthday girl doesn’t kvetch, though she has every right to. She doesn’t consider herself a victim, just someone who has to experience the world differently from the rest of us.” —Washington Post
Beasley shares surprisingly delightful stories about her own fraught relationship with food.” —Prevention
“An unself-pitying meditation on what it’s like to live without goodies most of us consider essential. What’s more, she somehow manages to make the whole thing hilarious.” —Self

"This information- and anecdote-filled book will be a welcome antidote to the worries and fears endured by families with food allergies."—Booklist

“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

"[A] fun read...Beasley is certainly inspiring to anyone who's suffered from allergies or other medical conditions that make you feel like you're on the outside looking in. But her memories of a supportive family who stuck with her through hard times, friends and lovers who accommodated her needs, and her narrative of independence and self-sufficiency will strike a chord with any reader—even those whose gustatory options are endless." —

"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, and a real pleasure—both hip and wickedly smart." Alex Lemon, author of Happy: A Memoir and Fancy Beasts
“Sandra Beasley's book is both hilarious and moving. It's about what it's like to live in fear of hidden parmesan, but it's also about teenage rebellion, romance and George Washington Carver. Recommended for everyone, no matter what their immune system is like.” A.J. Jacobs, author of My Life as an Experiment and The Year of Living Biblically

Don't Kill The Birthday Girl is a compelling and enlightening exploration of what life is like for someone with life threatening allergies.  Thoughtful and witty but most important, educational, this book is a must read for anyone who has or knows someone with severe allergies—which means everyone.” —Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes and Carolina Moon

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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (July 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307588111
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307588111
  • ASIN: 0307588114
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,164,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Radar626 VINE VOICE on 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By N. B. Kennedy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By laureliz77 on January 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a sufferer of a severe food allergy, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Never have I read something that I related to so fully. Beasley's anecdotes about foolish teenage risks, dating, the desire to feel normal trumping the desire to feel safe, and family misunderstandings could have easily been ripped directly from my life. Finally, someone has written an open, honest chronicle of the challenges faced by those who must navigate a world in which food is social currency whilst constantly having to turn it down.

A few words of caution:

1. I can entirely relate to the impulse not to take an Epi-Pen. I've done it on far too many occasions, and it often saves hours of hassle (ambulance fees, IV drips, emergency rooms, doctors who keep you there hours beyond resolution "to be safe," or worse, doctors who ignore you because you "look fine"). I can also relate to the author knowing that this is a terrible idea, as anti-histamines are often powerless to dismantle a systemic reaction even as they mask it. I hesitate to endorse her story, however, because so many incorrect assumptions about severe allergies revolve around the idea that a reaction can easily resolve with a little Benadryl. I worry that readers may use this knowledge to dismiss the severely allergic. I also worry that teens, already so cavalier with their allergies, might try this method with tragically mixed results.

2. As a peanut allergic individual, I understand how peanut allergy awareness has gone too far. Isolating kids, policing schools for airborne traces of allergens, all seem hysterical reactions that ultimately make kids feel like outsiders, make them the objects of scorn, and do nothing to train them to deal with a world that will in no way be peanut-free.
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