A book cheekily called Don’t Bang the Barista! can’t be anything but amazing, right? Right. While Leigh Matthews’s reincarnation of 1950s lesbian pulp is the sexy, drama-filled romp you might expect from such a title, it’s also a lot more intelligent than you might have thought. In fact, in the small space of about 200 pages, this book manages to be fun and smart, complex and intensely readable. It’s the perfect kind of book for when you feel like something light-hearted and entertaining but don’t want to pollute your brain with something, you know, dumb and terrible.
You’re especially going to enjoy this book if you’re familiar with Vancouver, which is where it’s set. There’s something so fun about reading a book and really knowing the places described in it, and being able to picture that exact intersection, that exact departures gate at the airport, that live music venue. But it’s not just the fact that I live in Vancouver that made this novel feel so familiar; I just felt like I was reading a book about my friends and people I know in the same way that I did when reading Zoe Whittall’s Holding Still for as Long as Possible. Full disclosure, this might be because the author is actually my friend, haha. But a few of the reviews I’ve read (on goodreads and the lesbrary) also mention the familiarity of characters and situations, so I’m pretty sure this isn’t just me.
So, Don’t Bang the Barista! follows a British ex-pat, Kate, living in Vancouver, trying to sort out her sorry love life. She’s still heart-broken over her ex, even though they broke up a year earlier, and she’s pining after Hanna, the barista at the coffee shop she and her friend Cass frequent (hence, the advice that is the name of the book: I mean, your favourite café is not something to mess with). When it seems like something might actually take off with Hanna, though, things start to get weird with Kate and Cass, who is this tough-girl lady killer, hiding behind a tough exterior. What is Cass’s problem? Is she really that concerned about the sacredness of their coffee hangout spot? Or is it that she actually has the hots for Hanna? Or is it something else?
I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, because racing along to figure out what is going to happen next is the funnest part of the book, but let me just share a few tidbits to show you how authentic, funny, and well-written this novel is:
“I don’t even know if she’s queer,” I said, trying to give myself an out now I was actually getting some friendly support for my crush.
“She’s in a band called LiquorBox,” Em said, frowning at me disapprovingly.
“So? That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone in the band is queer.”
“She’s the drummer in a band called LiquorBox.”
Doesn’t that sound like a conversation your friends had last week?
She had just seen Cass talking to Manda, the lady I’d actually managed to go on three dates with before the great Scrabble-hating reveal.
Don’t you have a friend who would refuse to continue dating someone because they hated Scrabble or some other thing that seems ridiculous and trivial to you but they are convinced is a deal-breaker?
Another thing that I really loved about the book was how nuanced the secondary characters were, even ones that didn’t appear for very long. In particular, the sub-plot about Kate’s friend Em, a bisexual woman in a long-term relationship with a man, was just awesome. I actually don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a character like this—a formally lesbian identified now bi woman dating a guy negotiating her place with queer friends and in queer spaces. The book quite frankly describes the biphobia that Em has to deal with. It was so refreshing to see someone in a situation like mine represented in a queer book! Em’s boyfriend kind of reminded me of my own boyfriend, actually. Here he is, venting about his relationship:
I mean, I can’t be enough for her, right? I try and I know she loves me. I think she loves me, but if there’s some gorgeous woman after her and then she compares her to me and I’m this big beardy dude and am clumsy and mannish and have all the goddamn privilege and none of the trials you women have then what the fuck am I supposed to do? I can’t compete with that, can I? I mean boobs! Goddamnit! Boobs!
I agree: who can compete with boobs? No one, that’s who.
Okay, I’m going to discuss one part of the book that is spoilery, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading here (and go find out where to buy the book)!
Here we go: I guess my one stipulation is that I sensed the appeal of Cass for Kate, but didn’t feel exactly convinced. I mean, I know the attraction of the bad girl type, and that suave player persona that can be so alluring, and I imagined Cass as this kind of person, but I felt like I wanted a bit more persuading. In other words, I knew that Cass had a certain appeal despite the shitty ways that she behaves throughout the story, but didn’t really believe it from the information that I had from the novel.
So sequel, maybe? I want to find out what happens to these characters next!