Hidden Valley Road

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A book review of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of An American Family by Robert Kolker

A book review of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of An American Family by Robert Kolker

Stars: *****

Doubleday (2020)
400 pages

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Summary: The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science’s great hope in the quest to understand the disease.

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins–aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony–and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?

What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.

With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family’s unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.

Hidden Valley Road

This is a pretty popular book so if you are a regular memoir reader you’ve probably heard of it. In this amazing story the Galvins had 12 kids, six of whom have/had Schizophrenia. That’s amazing enough but this isn’t just the story of the Galvins. It’s also the story of the people who worked for various organizations trying to find the cause and treatments options for Schizoprenia.

The book alternates between the viewpoints of one or more Galvin family members for one chapter and then the viewpoint of a schizophrenia researcher in the next. It continues that way throughout the book so you can follow the family AND the researchers.

The story is amazing and shocking and at times very sad. But it’s an important one to share. If you have ANY interest in schizophrenia or mental illness in general, you will want to read this book. You will also want to read it if you are just interested in well written memoirs. The kids were all born in the 50s or so and so this is a memoir of adults with mental illness as well as kids.

The start of each chapter that is from the viewpoint of a Galvin has a list of all the Galvins at the beginning. The name/s of those featured in that chapter are bolded. As members of the family are lost, the name list gets smaller and smaller.

I found the chapters about mental illness research just as interesting as the family stories. For example even though I have Bipolar, I had not heard that the genes that cause Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Autism are all related. Very interesting.

Content Warning – their is sexual abuse in the book, be warned if this is a trigger.

A great read.

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.