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Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley - Reading Group Guide

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley - Reading Group Guide

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The reading group guide for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley.

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.
The reading group guide for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley.

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.

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Publish date: Jul 12, 2011
Added to Scribd: Jun 06, 2011
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ABOUT THIS GUIDE
 At every gathering, someone will have rsthand knowl-edge of food allergies—whether one’s own or those of aloved one. In
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl 
, author SandraBeasley writes about her experience of growing up havingmore than a dozen major food allergies to staples suchas dairy, egg, and beef. She examines the many ways in which food shapes not only our bodies, but also our senseof self and our relationships. Looking beyond her ownlife, she blends in material about allergies from the eldsof medicine, science, sociology, and popular culture. Thisguide will help you jump-start the discussion o
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl 
, leading into a broader dialogue abouthow allergies are handled in today’s world and how they might affect you, your family, or your friends on a daily basis.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. The “big eight” allergens responsible for more than90 percent of food allergies in Americans are dairy,egg, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, sh, and shellsh. Which of these would be the most difcult for youto live without, and why?2. What are some of the ways in which the book showshow food allergies can be understood—or misun-derstood—by young children? What are your ownexperiences translating medical issues into simplied,i.e., kid-appropriate, terms?3. In the rst chapter, Beasley internalizes the lessons of a
Reader’s Digest 
column, “I am Joe’s...” What werethe regular magazine features you read in childhoodthat might have been written for an audience beyondyour years and have stayed with you?4. This book asserts that food serves not only as a sourceof nourishment, but also as a means to ritualizedbonding. What are some of the culinary traditionsthat united your family, classroom, or community  when you were growing up?5. What are the benets and disadvantages to bans onthe presence of certain food allergens, for example,the “No Nut Zone”? What would your reaction be if you encountered such a zone in your daily life?6. Is it realistic for a mainstream media culture that rel-ishes gourmet cuisine to regularly acknowledge those with food allergies or other dietary restrictions? Whatare some of the ways that awareness is—or shouldbe—signied in the media?7. Should a chef be able to turn a patron away from hisor her restaurant rather than guarantee accommoda-tion for food allergies or other medical conditions? What if the issue is a voluntary dietary restriction,such as vegetarianism? What if the restaurant offersonly a prix-xe menu, versus a la carte options?8. For a brief stint, Beasley freelanced as a restaurant re-viewer despite her food allergies. Have you ever helda job you seemed patently unqualied to do? Was itan act of bravery or stubbornness?
 
READING GROUP GUIDESANDRABEASLEY.COM 
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl
Tales from an Allergic LifeSandra Beasley 
 
9. The book explains how soy became a focal pointof American industry and agriculture. Does thischange your attitude toward soy products? How so?10. Food allergies can complicate the intimate situa-tions associated with dating and romance. How does the book show that medical concerns canhighlight issues of trust? How might these issuesevolve as a relationship matures?11. The narrative repeatedly invokes the idea of whatis “hidden”—from unknown food ingredients tomasked allergic reactions. How does this xa-tion on secrecy change your understanding of themindset of someone with severe food allergies?12. The author was born in 1980, in a suburbanneighborhood of northern Virginia. How mighther experience have been different if she’d beenborn into a different generation, or in anotherpart of the country?13. Based on examples given in the book, what aresome differences in how food allergies are under-stood and studied outside the United States?14. Beasley talks about choosing travel destinationsbased on one’s comfort level in terms of indig-enous cuisine or shared language. What is yourpersonal comfort zone for travel, and why? How  would this change if you developed a severe foodallergy or other physical disability?15. Attending the AAAAI conference claried the au-thor’s understanding of desensitization treatmentsregularly reported by the media as breakthroughsor “cures” for allergy. If you suffered from foodallergies, would you opt to participate in an ex-perimental trial? Would you encourage your childto participate in a study?16. Some phenomena reported to and subsequently dismissed by doctors—a hay-fever sufferer’s itchy mouth in response to fruit or an egg-allergicchild’s tolerance of a mufn containing bakedegg—later proved credible according to morerecent science. Have you had similar experiences?How does this change our stance when seekingadvice?17. Before writing a memoir, the author publishedtwo collections of poetry. What do you see assome of the more poetic or lyrical moments in thebook?18. Beasley emphasizes the anxieties and sacricesvisited upon any parent of an allergic child. If your family dealt with such issues, how would youbalance asking your child to be careful while alsoencouraging him or her to embrace life’sadventures?
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl
READING GROUP GUIDE
Reading group guide for
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl
by Sandra Beasley. Copyright © 2011 by the Crown Publishing Group. Distributed by permission of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this reading group guide may be reproduced or reprintedwithout permission in writing from the publisher.

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capfox reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Sometimes you can be won over by a combination of a cover and a thought. In this case, the cover was the little display copy of this book, light pink with a cupcake complete with a little death's-head ornament on it, and the thought was of my friend Kit, who recently moved to town and is allergic to around 3/4 of everything under the sun, it seems. Beasley's book promised tales of life from someone with just about as many allergies as Kit has, along with some scientific discussion of how allergies work, and why they seem to perhaps be increasing.On the whole, this was indeed a cute and fast read. The little looks in at the science of how allergens work and set off terrible reactions, why some allergens are classed together, and the social and political implications of how people deal with allergies and the rising awareness thereof were interesting, although I could probably have used a bit more detail on some of it. But you do get a good taste for the way it works and how people are trying to deal with it. The amount of legislation in place, and awareness in restaurants and among common folk, has definitely increased.But that said, if you're as allergic as Beasley, the world still has a ways to go, and the most interesting parts of the book are really the tales of her life and trying to deal with it. For most of her allergies, they're very severe; her dairy and egg allergies, for example, meant that if someone ate cake at a birthday party for her, and kissed her on the cheek after, she'd get hives. A knife being used to cut cheese, and then her salad, is enough to make her curl up and gasp for air. Much of the story tells of how her parents had to deal with her, the choices she makes to avoid using Epi-pens and just suffer through as much as possible, still trying to navigate relationships with friends and her boyfriend where she's careful, but still trying to live life as full as possible. Just all the realms in which her family and then she have to be cautious, because a tiny slip means a whole lot of misery, definitely get described and communicated well.It's still a light and fast read, though, and you'll come away with a new appreciation of what it means to be highly allergic to food (and other objects), even if it's not directly applicable to you or those close to you. That's not always the point of reading though, is it? I liked the style well enough, and it was enjoyable, if not particularly memorable. If you're interested in the topic, it won't take you long to read through, and you'll probably like it fine. It does have some catchy bits... and it makes you glad that the allergies themselves aren't among them.
jackieblem reviewed this
Rated 3/5
It was the title that caught me. I was just going to skim through it to get an overview, but I quickly got pulled in by Beasley's honest and quirky writing style as well as the amazing amount of information that she's packed into this book. I've been affiliated with the food industry for a big chunk of my life, and the issues covered in this book address that side of things, as well as the terrifying realities of living with multiple and severe food allergies.Beasley really got the short end of the stick when it comes to allergies--the title refers to the idea that she can't even eat her own birthday cake at her parties, she can't even be kissed on the cheek by someone who did without getting a kiss shaped hive from it. Her salad, cut up special for her but, alas, with a knife that had also been used to cut cheese leaves her curled up fighting for breath and consciousness on a secluded couch at a wedding reception. Nightmare scenarios abound. But she's got a great attitude about it, though she must always, always, always be hyper vigilant and questioning of just about everything to keep herself safe. Despite all of this, she was a food writer for a couple of years, and she's very good about adding all sorts of background to the foods and why they cause allergic reactions in some, as well as just a general history of food that I found very interesting.This book really opened my eyes to a whole lot of dangers and difficulties suffered by the allergic, and has increased my compassion level and sensitivity significantly. It's very well written, and very worthy of a read by just about everyone.
tfs93 reviewed this
Rated 3/5
I could relate to Beasley's life story. As an insulin dependant diabetic since the age of three, my life has also revolved around labels and the many wonders of where and why sugar is added to food. I enjoyed Beasley's story about how her parents helped her as a child and her many experiences with allergic reactions. The book also contains very useful information about vegetarians, eating at restaurants, and general information on food allergies and where to go for help.
pagei_3 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I enjoyed this book and learning about allergies and how people with really severe ones learn to cope. I have allergies, but luckily not to food, and can understand the author’s struggles to live a normal life.One of the things I found interesting is that 150 people /year die from anaphylactic reactions to allergens in the US. I knew that some people reacted violently to bee stings or some other allergens, but I didn’t know how many people die from it.There are 8 legally classified allergens : milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, & wheat. Sandra has to make sure that her food is prepared without any of the usual things like milk and certain oils before she can sit down in a restaurant to have a normal meal like the rest of us. She approaches this subject with humor and tries to make those of us who aren’t as allergic as she is what it’s like for her and many others to navigate through life as a normal person.This was a fun read and enlightening one as well and highly recommend it for anyone who is struggling or knows someone who struggles to survive with severe allergies.
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