Hidden Gems of Queer Lit: Leigh Matthews’ “Don’t Bang the Barista!”

Welcome to Hidden Gems of Queer Lit! This column is for those of you who found the first reflections of your desires in a dusty corner of the library, and for those of you who know that important histories and new ways of looking at the world are nestled in yellowed pages as well as flickering screens. Every two weeks I’ll profile a queer lit title that’s outside of the public eye for one reason or another: obscure, small-press, older, aimed at a different niche, or otherwise underrated. It’s my hope that you’ll connect with some of these books and treasure them as I have.


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Looking for a readable stocking stuffer for a dear queer or gal pal? Don’t Bang the Barista! is a good bet. It’s a fun, contemporary pulp novel full of drama, crush-worthy girls, and Vancouver subculture.

Kate is a 30-something web designer living in Vancouver and embedded in a queer social circle. She’s crushing on the barista at her favorite coffee shop, but Cass, her bad-girl friend from the dog park, warns her away. (“Kate, honey, you know the first rule of coffee-shop dating…”) But Kate and the barista, Hanna, are intrigued by each other despite the warning. It doesn’t help that Kate’s ex-girlfriend, who she hasn’t quite managed to get over, is back in town and equally interested in reuniting. But could Cass, the supposedly carefree libertine, be holding a candle for Kate? And why can’t Kate stop thinking about her?

Much of the novel’s glee is found in its witty characters, who embody a real sense of “scene.” They partake in Meetup groups, play in bands, knit, and date each other’s exes. There are Kate’s couple-friends, trying to settle into domesticity but fighting like cats and dogs. There’s the bisexual best friend, Em, who Kate looks to as a model of stability, and who suddenly needs support in opening up her opposite-sex relationship. Em’s is a unique subplot that deals with biphobia, poly dating, and changing expectations in relationships. I was really glad to see it in there, as it’s a reality that could use more representation in the book world. As for the protagonists, Cass often behaves like a jerk, and snarky, depressive Kate can be a bit of a mess. Not every reader will approve of their decisions or find their romance believable. There were times I wanted to shake Cass, and yell “Stop doing that!” or “Just communicate already!” But as someone who’s messed up just as badly, and been just as much of a jerk, I also kind of empathized. These characters are as real in their vices as the women in, say, Valencia. Animals also get their stage time: Kate’s omnipresent dog, Jupiter, is a likable character in his own right.

While there are soap-opera touches, such as Kate getting embroiled with one girl one day and another girl the next, there are also flashes of insight that elevate the novel beyond a typical romance. Kate, a British expat, has witty takes on everything from accents — “Yeah, it’s totally sexy not to have any clue what someone is saying to you” — to  the relationship between pet ownership and procreation — “You can pretty much guess the age of the Labrador or Golden Retriever by how old the child is running alongside. A two year old toddler, huh? I bet you that dog is three, and a bit disgruntled.” Like any good drama, the plot’s resolution hinges on a series of improbable coincidences. However, there’s enough realism in the characters’ emotions and the minutiae of their lives to make these coincidences work. If smart, well-written theatrics are your thing, you’re in for a fun ride with Don’t Bang the Barista!


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Melanie Bell grew up on Prince Edward Island, Canada and lives in San Francisco. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Concordia University and her work has appeared in various publications including xoJane, Jaggery, The Fiddlehead, Grain, and CV2. She writes a weekly food column for Skirt Collective, Mini Mealtime Monday, featuring recipes for one or two, and has a collection of short stories forthcoming from Bad Witch Book Publishing. She teaches about Enneagram personality types through Berghoef & Bell Innovations. Connect with her on Twitter and at melaniebellwrites.com.

Melanie has written 16 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. ahem! well, I’m sorry Leigh Matthews but I am just going to acknowledge your warning and very gently fold it up and throw it outside the window because well, have you SEEN my barista?!? Like really looked (stared) at her like I do daily? I thought so!!

    I refuse to take ‘fuck the barista’ off my new years resolution list.

    or maybe I’m taking this title a bit too personally. sigh.

  2. I was in my fave coffee shop, reading a few sciency articles.
    Whenever I got too bored, I’d check autostraddle(I’m trying to quit facebook) and the picture with the headline “Don’t Bang the Barista!” would pop up, full screen.
    I’m sure the cute barista walking by repeatedly, appreciated this and totally thought it wasn’t creepy as hell.
    *Sigh*.
    I will forever remain single.
    Which is fine, as long as I have good coffee, good books and autostraddle.

      • I told her I had an imaginary friend, when she accidentally served an espresso to the empty seat across from me.
        I mean, I sent the espresso back, because “my imaginary friend would get too chipper”.
        Maybe she came by to check up on my sanity?
        (I did ask her not to step on him/her,too.)
        I have like, no game whatsoever.
        *sigh*
        Maybe, it’s time to go to the School of Game of one Ms.Carol Aird.
        “So, how do you like your coffee best?”
        “Actually, I drink tea.”
        “How come you know so much about tea?”
        “Well, I work here, I make it.”
        “How refreshing. Do you deliver? I mean, would you?”

  3. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading the novel, Melanie! What a delightful review – you’re definitely not alone in wanting to give Cass a good shake!

    Your timing is impeccable, as I have been working away furiously on the sequel this week, and put up and excerpt on Patreon just this morning. Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t yet read Don’t Bang the Barista!

    Thanks, readers! It’s so fun to write for you all and to get feedback, and to know all you folks are out there crushing hard on baristas.

  4. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading the novel, Melanie! What a delightful review – you’re definitely not alone in wanting to give Cass a good shake!

    Your timing is impeccable, as I have been working away furiously on the sequel this week, and put up and excerpt on Patreon just this morning. Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t yet read Don’t Bang the Barista! https://www.patreon.com/Leigh?ty=h

    Thanks, readers! It’s so fun to write for you all and to get feedback, and to know all you folks are out there crushing hard on baristas.

  5. Oh man, as a bi girl in the process of opening up my relationship with my cis male partner, it feels like a miracle to hear that there’s a book out there with a plot line about someone like me. Will be reading this ASAP.

  6. Hello straddlers!

    A quick note to say that Go Deep, the sequel to Don’t Bang the Barista!, is now available.

    If you purchase through the following link I believe Autostraddle will get a nice referral fee: http://www.amazon.com/Go-Deep-All-Out-Vancouver/dp/0992022444/ref=as_li_ss_tl?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1457370116&sr=1-1&linkCode=ll1&tag=autowin-20&linkId=J3PZOF662OBIPY5T

    [Editors, feel free to alter the link if I got this wrong! I inserted your ref ID manually.]

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