UPDATE: And we have a winner! Congratulations to Beth for winning Sandra’s book! Thank you to all for participating. I will be having another giveaway of the book over at my Craft Gossip blog in the upcoming weeks, and I’ll be sure to let the decorated cookie readers know.
Yes, please don’t.
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life is a beautifully-written memoir infused with wit and humor from Sandra Beasley on living with severe allergies, that is, living as a being not “designed to survive,” as a frustrated nutritionist once told Sandra’s 4th-grade class. The book doubles as an important source of practical information about allergies, not only for those who understand the childhood angst of finding a purse that will conceal an EpiPen or for those who parent a child with allergies, but for anyone interested in the confusing and growing allergic world. Or for anyone who adores a memoir with a voice that compels you to keep turning pages.
Sandra is allergic to dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard, a new allergy discovered almost every year of her thirty-some years of life. The title refers to a mantra of Sandra’s mother, a fearful leader forced to navigate a minefield of edible deathtraps to keep her child alive, who would warn Sandra’s birthday guests to stand clear after the ritualistic consumption of toxic, frosting-topped cake, “Now, don’t kill the birthday girl.” This book gives us privileged entry into the mind of someone who relies on an ever-present hyper-awareness necessary for survival in such a fascinating way, that upon putting the book down, even readers without allergies will find themselves suddenly consumed by a thoughtfulness about every bite of food.
The book has already received considerable press, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and has already sparked some controversy. (If you read the Wall Street Journal article, then the response from Allergy Moms, what do you think about Sandra’s suggestion that over-protective allergy-free zones fail to help those with allergies fend for themselves in the real world? Me? I think she’s right, and many in the allergy community agree that those with allergies want to be safe while those without don’t want their freedom to food restricted, and Sandra helps address how both sides can better co-exist in a world where callous indifference from those not allergic, such as a chef adding a dollop of butter to potatoes, can kill those with allergies, and where those without allergies roll their eyes upon entering “Peanut-Free Zones” and mistakenly think allergies are over-hyped, but that those who are allergic don’t necessarily want to be isolated and locked away in a bubble. But that’s just me.)
I got to read this book on letter-size paper, before it had the fancy cover. I know Sandra. She’s my friend. We studied together at American University’s MFA in Literature/Creative Writing program, she was poetry, I was fiction. Rather, she is poetry, I was fiction. I always thought myself smart (I have my GRE scores and testimony from my high school AP Calculus teacher to prove it) until I met a whole new kind of smart in Sandra. The clever genius and brilliant insight that seem to come so easily for her is humbling, and if she is reading this line, I’m sure I risk exploding her ego, but there’s just no dispute about her talent with words.
“I became the only kid at Haycock Elementary to carry a purse, the first of many hauled around over the years. There was the pink one with blue trim, an all-time favorite, ruined on a hot day at the funfair by a melted Jolly Rancher. There was LeSportsac, which I smugly informed my friends was ‘a French label.’ There was the black leather hand-me-down from my mother, still packed with musty, folded squares of Kleenexthat bore lipstick blogs. Later in life, I would look on in awe at my friends’ clutches and baguettes. I have never had a purse that wasn’t wide enough for an EpiPen, deep enough for an inhaler, and complete with a zippered pocket for Benadryl.” (p. 11)
Check out Sandra’s blog, Chicks Dig Poetry, for wisdom, humor and inside glimpses into the underworld of Washington DC, an underworld including book store controversy over a cardboard cut-out and the best places to get exotic vodka and french fries, an underworld I used to know well, albeit a different underworld of ten years ago. (Now I’m old and have a kid and live in the upper corner of DC away from finding bullet casings on my sidewalk. Sigh. I miss the city even if I’m still in it.)
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