Review of Through Different Eyes
“Karen Charleson, author of Through Different Eyes, is featured on the cover of BC BookWorld's Summer Issue
Set on Northern Vancouver Island, Through Different Eyes is a moving and memorable novel that is fuelled by compassion and wisdom–
Charleson succeeds in making the reader care about every individual she portrays. This story of dignity and perseverance rings true on
every page by continuously conveying how people feel. Cumulatively, it stands as a testament to how it’s the women in Kitsum who
preserve and foster community.
More Reviews of this title
“Through Different Eyes by Karen Charleson, is front and centre in the most recent issue of BC Book Look.
Recently featured on the cover of B.C. BookWorld, Through Different Eyes is the sort of novel that will likely be overlooked in Toronto. It’s published from Winnipeg, it concerns life at the northern end of Vancouver Island in a bygone decade of the 1980s; and its author is not a hobnobber from UBC Creative Writing. The characters are nonetheless memorable and the action is rooted in a keenly-felt awareness of how small, indigenous communities depend on women to weave and maintain the social fabric of responsibililty and mutual aid. “The small village of Kitsum,” according to novelist/reviewer Paul Headrick, “is a vivid, complicated literary creation.—Ed.
“Love triangles, teenage pregnancy, (not so) secret affairs, a baby abandoned on doorsteps — with all this drama and more plot twists, you would think I was talking about a telenovela and not Karen Charleson’s first novel.
Through Different Eyes follows the Joe family, who live in a fictional Kitsum, a small fishing Indigenous town north of Vancouver. While teenage Brenda worries about her pregnancy, her aunt Monica returns for Christmas to help confront the local man that Brenda was involved with. Monica, who just left her long-term Vancouver boyfriend, is conflicted when meeting the attractive loner that Brenda was involved with. Meanwhile, Brenda’s mother, Ruby, deals with the multiple rumours that her husband Martin had an affair. As more family secrets and betrayals are exposed, and rumours begin to spread, the Joe family begins to unravel.
Charleson expertly uses an omniscient narrator to show us a glimpse of not just Brenda and Monica’s perspectives, but also Nona’s, the Joes’ elderly neighbour who just can’t help herself from spreading rumours. Even if the focus is the Joe family drama, Charleson doesn’t shy away from political comments. When they open the first elementary school in Kitsum, which was severely underfunded, Monica is determined to be “good enough that she would never have to go back to the Indian Residential School ever again.” The matter of fact tone of these sparing critiques don’t detract from the story, instead they leave readers to contemplate the conditions of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
While the first few chapters draw out a bit slowly, once the drama starts for Brenda, Monica, and Ruby, the action unfolds and quickly snowballs, making Through Different Eyes impossible to put down.”
“After publishing three science textbooks, a series of articles, opinion pieces for newspapers and scholarly journals, Karen Charleson has made the giant leap to published novelist.
Set in the fictional West Coastvillage of Kitsum, the story of 16-year-old Brenda Joe is told through the eyes of three local women.
Through marriage, Charleson is a member of the House of Kinquashtakumtlth and Hesquiaht First Nation. Since 2000, she and her husband Steve have owned and operated the Hooksum Outdoor School in Hesquiaht Harbour. With no phone service out of Hesquiaht Harbour, Ha-Shilth-Sa “spoke” with Charleson via email.
“Through Different Eyes is a work of fiction. It is made up,” Charleson wrote. “That said, however, it takes place on the actual West Coast of Vancouver Island. While the villages of Kitsum and Port Hope are fictional, I have tried to make them “real” West Coast villages.
“Similarly, the characters in Through Different Eyes are fictional. None of the fictional characters are based upon real people. However, I have tried very hard to make my characters true to life. I want readers to be able to relate and recognize the characters as true West Coast people.”
Through Different Eyes follows the plight of Brenda Joe when she begins to realize she is pregnant. Morning sickness, fatigue, mood changes. Her friends fall away. Her secret boyfriend, Michael, makes himself scarce. Brenda will have to count on her family, which includes university-educated Aunt Monica, to come through this crisis.
Charleson was asked if she was trying to address any specific social issues through her story.
“I was thinking of two very concrete things as I wrote the novel,” she wrote. “One, I wanted to tell a positive story about ‘ordinary’ daily life as it is lived by the people who have known this area as home for countless generations here on the West Coast.
“The other was to show the enduring strength and central importance of family. I do not specifically name Nuu-chah-nulth or any First Nation (other than the fictional Kitsum First Nation)
in the novel, but I think that anyone who reads it will easily be able to recognize Nuu-chah-nulth attitudes, perspectives, and ways of doing things in the community and family.”
Charleson said she first turned her hand at novel-writing about a dozen years ago.
“I wrote perhaps a hundred pages and my story ran out of steam. It sat in a drawer in Hot Springs Cove for a few years, while my husband and I began to live at Ayyi’saqh in Hesquiaht
Harbour year round.”
But, walking down the beach one day, Charleson’s mind turned back to that “part of a novel sitting in a drawer.” While the broad plot outline worked, the budding novelist realized the problem
was technical: point-of-view.
“The person I was using to narrate the story could not possibly know of all the events and feelings, etc, around what was described,” she realized. “Different people knew different things about this story. I needed to find a way to include their voices.”
Charleson made the decision to use three different narrators, and she began the process of writing, editing and re-writing.
“From that walk on the beach to the draft I initially submitted to publishers was about three years.”
For any first-time author, the submission process is long and frustrating. Most publishers demand to be the sole recipients, and they can take months to make a decision. After three or four such submissions, Charleson decided to take her chances and make multiple submissions.
“Karen Haughian at Signature Editions was the first publisher to approach me with a thoughtful analysis of what I had written in Through Different Eyes, and with her ideas about how I could
make it a better novel,” Charleson wrote. While Signature Editions had accepted the book, it would be another two years, a complete re-write and six months working with an editor, poet Garry Thomas Morse, before the manuscript was ready for press.
“Garry and I were able to go over every word of Through Different Eyes. I learned a lot!”