Former American Scholar editor and award-winning poet Beasley’s debut memoir is a fascinating—though at times disjointed—account of living with severe allergies.
The author’s earliest recollections involved birthdays and the way they highlighted her difference from others. While her mother would give her “Sandra-friendly” treats, she would prepare a cake for everyone else and warn guests not to touch, kiss or hug her—hives, anaphylactic shock or death could be the unwelcome result. Needless to say, growing up sensitive to more than a dozen kinds of foods and 10 different kinds of animals and environmental elements was a huge challenge. From babyhood well into adolescence, Beasley and her parents never knew which foods would cause illness. Though her home environment could accommodate her condition, whenever she went out—to school, to friends’ houses and restaurants—she could never be certain that the few foods she could safely eat hadn’t been tainted with traces of what she couldn’t. As a result, from the time she was in elementary school, she had to carry an adult-sized purse loaded with Benadryl, an EpiPen auto-injector and an inhaler. Speaking as the survivor of too-numerous-to-count trips to the emergency room, she writes “[t]here’s a reason they’re called allergy ‘attacks’; you never knew where a food can be lurking.” Interspersed with memories of the daily game of “Russian roulette” she was forced to play well into young adulthood are well-researched sections about such neglected topics as the history of allergy identification and treatment, as well as interesting anecdotes about the little-known social exclusions faced by people with allergies. However, Beasley seems to be trying to write two books in one: the first, about her life, and the second about an important topic (food allergies) that deserves greater attention than it has so far received.
Uneven but humane and informative.