Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review: Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic LifeDon't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this for a book club in February. I certainly wouldn't have picked it up on my own, though I did learn a few things.

Sandra Beasley has severe allergies to several foods, among them milk, nuts, soy, and eggs. Her reactions close up her windpipe, give her hives, make her throw up or have diarrhea, and generally alienate her from social events and restaurants. Despite all that, she's determined to still travel, eat in restaurants, and hang out with her friends. Miracles within the book come from a sympathetic waiter, a vegan friend, and the constant vigilance of her mother.

I can't imagine what it must be like to not only look out for what I eat, but where that food came from, what everyone else eats, and what my food has touched. I found myself craving ice cream and cheese and cupcakes, just from the knowledge there's someone who can't enjoy them.

I also learned a lot about the psychology of allergies: why my friends with food allergies will try a little of something they know they're allergic to, knowing they'll deal with the consequences later. Why a person would rather go to the hospital than use an Epi-pen. Why mothers of children with allergies are hyper-vigilant.

The transition between folksy (and sometimes terrifying) anecdotes about reactions and the science behind them aren't always smooth. It may be because this was my bedtime reading, but I didn't always follow the technical jargon. Beasley uses medical abbreviations that are her whole life, but that made me scratch my head. I followed it well enough, and I suppose this works well as an introduction. But, it is neither textbook nor simple memoir. The packaging indicates it's the latter, while some of the language seems to indicate the former.

Overall, I learned a few things, and I found this to be more readable than I'd expected. The narrative is broken up well, and the sections on science are fairly short.

If you know someone with allergies and you'd like to understand more of how his or her life works, I'd recommend giving this a read. It's fairly quick and entertaining. I'm sure there are much drier books on the subject.

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