Kalyanii reviews Don’t Bang the Barista by Leigh Matthews

dontbangthebarista

If truth be told, my initial interest in Don’t Bang the Barista probably had something to do with my long-held crush on the red-headed, fresh-faced beauty who works the morning shift at the coffee shop a couple of blocks from my office. However, with the turn of the first few pages, it became clear that I had stumbled upon something special. Touted as “a fresh take on the classic genre of lesbian pulp fiction,” Don’t Bang the Barista proves intriguing, endearing and utterly captivating throughout.

Lest anyone be put off, the title is simply an allusion to the advice that Cass offers her friend Kate while discussing the politics of pursuing a barista crush. After all, imagine how awkward it could be if, after a few dates, it all went wrong. Who wouldn’t tread lightly? Yet, could it be that Cass’s concern has more to do with her feelings for Kate than a desire to protect the sanctity of their social space? Cultivating a burgeoning friendship via early morning conversations at the dog park, Cass and Kate enjoy an effortless rapport… until Cass begins to act a bit out of character.

Unable to figure out what lies beneath Cass’s tough-girl exterior, Kate assumes that Cass wants Hannah, the barista, for herself; yet, Kate is too preoccupied with her ex’s return to town to truly reach out and discover what it is that’s bothering her friend. All the while, Cass grows increasingly moody as well as distant. Though others find Cass’s feelings for Kate to be rather obvious, it is only upon determining with whom her own heart lies that Kate discovers it just may be too late.

For all of its light-hearted quirkiness, Don’t Bang the Barista does not shy away from an exploration of the challenges often encountered amid non-traditional relationship dynamics — without any disruption in the tone or flow of the narrative. The way in which Kate supports her bisexual friend, Em, in navigating her desire for a female lover while protecting her primary hetero relationship illuminates just as much about Kate and Em’s friendship as it does the validation of polyamory and conscious/consensual decision-making. The emotional impacts of in vitro fertilization, social alienation and heartbreak are investigated without for a moment compromising the novel’s hip and sexy vibe.

I was struck by the way in which the LGBT-friendly locale of East Vancouver allowed for a more nuanced presentation of the issues mentioned above and a more complex understanding of the characters who encounter them; whereas, in less accepting communities, identity issues — let alone physical and emotional survival — supercede more subtle human needs out of necessity alone. It’s basically a manifestation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once we feel safe within our environment, we are better able to enjoy the journey toward self-actualization, creating a meaningful and satisfying existence, which at the end of the day is precisely what the women of Don’t Bang the Barista are seeking.

[Editor’s note: also check out Danika’s review!]

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