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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

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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.

377 pages, Hardcover

First published April 7, 2020

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Robert Kolker

3 books815 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,677 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
April 12, 2020
Meet the Galvin family......



This is one of those non-fiction books that often reads like fiction. It’s incredibly intimate....in details, descriptions, character development, storytelling, and facts.
It just seems so inconceivable that ‘this much’ mental illness could hit one nuclear family!
By the end of this book - I felt I knew each of the fourteen family members well - by name, their interests, struggles, and personal temperaments.
We also get an experience of the family-interacting- competitive-dynamics.

The most basic every day routines - for a family of 14:
from eating, to grocery shopping, cooking, household chores, clothes washing, folding of diapers, studying, piano lessons, educational and cultural aspirations, sports, other friends, neighbors, socializing, work, the parents as individuals and as a couple, and the siblings -(constant companions), who were and were not diagnosed with any mental illness, made this book unputdownable.

Both family and medical history was examined extensively.

Something was very wrong.....
with the first born son.... then... the next....
next..next...and next...

I kept thinking —“Oh my god, I’d die if I was the mother of this family”
— so much tragedy...blame? shame?... guilt....suffering...
.....’mother-monster’ accusations?/! Heaven help me!!
Yikes... and why so many children? After 10 boys, came 2 girls followed.
Mom/Mimi was 40 years old when her last child was born.

Even though the girls weren’t diagnosed with mental illness it was painful to read their stories as well.

The house in Hidden Valley in Colorado Springs was vividly described...a 1960s home with large pine trees surrounding .... with lots of room for playing football, kickball, Simon-Says, etc.

Surreal- reading!!!
...Interesting kids-
...growing up-years (other families nearby had eight kids)...
...moving along-years
...breakdowns, fights
...Rock ‘n’ roll music,
...military service,
.. public relation talks,
...the Vietnam war era, ...troubled fantasy thoughts
...suicide attempts
... education, college, degrees, marriage, divorces
...frightening behaviors, ...emotional devastation,
... manipulations within the family
... avoidance of the family, anger and self-care needs
...brutal institutions,
...shock therapy, treatments and testings,
... mental health stigmas,
...loss, death, memorial services, more births...
...DSM-American psychiatric association understanding.
...two different doctors making different studies.

The resilience of this family was as extraordinary as the horrors.

I was as transfixed by the science study and the doctors who studied schizophrenia ( agreed and disagreed), the research testing, analyzing, ongoing studies today, with equally as much interest as much as I was taking in my own experience of each of the family members.

Twelve children: six diagnosed with schizophrenia/ and or Bipolar disorder.
Nature? or Nurture?

Incredible -extraordinary -thought-provoking - -phenomenally researched-addictive page turning -educational -personal story.....
Written with upmost empathy and compassion.

‘Not’ a book I’d give to mom for Mother’s Day...
highly readable and **recommendable**
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
April 6, 2020
The odds of reading two books at the same time, where both families have twelve children, has to be high. That, though is there only commanality. I've never read anything like this, it was both hard to read because if subject matter and well done. Mimi and Don Kohler wanted the American dream, a large family, happy marriage, happy life. After WWII, Done work with the Air Force brought them to California, where at first the family prospered. Ten boys were born in succession, followed finally by two girls. As the children grew, Mimi was a strict organizer, priding herself on keeping her family in line, or so it appeared. Six of the boys would in time develop mental illnesses and schizophrenia the main offender.

Cannot even begin to imagine how one copes with this kind of challenge. With great compassion, Kolker tells the story of this belegured family. The hospitalazations, medication, violence, fear, hidden abuse, as I'm said hard to read. The family story alternates with the scientific investigations, theories that changed from year to year, this family of particular interest to researchers. How the other family members copes, or didn't, requiring years if therapy in some cases. One can't help but feel for them all, this insidious mental illness causing havoc, sadness and tragedy for all.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,563 reviews1,935 followers
April 8, 2020
3.5 stars. Fascinating, readable, and depressing as hell. Unfortunately this fell a little short for me in a few ways.

At first, the hook of this book is enough to draw your attention. Just one family, with twelve children, where half of them have diagnoses of schizophrenia. When you hear it, it's is such a strange and unusual thing that you do not see it as real experiences. Kolker's main goal here is to change that, to make you see the real impact the illness has on people, how it affects them over days and years. He intersperses their story with the history of the scientific research into schizophrenia. Both stories are interesting and well-written, but for me both were flawed.

The family's story is hampered in ways Kolker cannot really help. While there are 14 members of the Galvin family, it's quite clear that only 3 spent considerable time with Kolker. Many have died. And it's absolutely understandable why many of the siblings who are not schizophrenic would have had enough of the whole thing and not want to be extensively interviewed, but as a reader I kept expecting the story to open up outside of the three women in it, except it rarely did. An even bigger obstacle that Kolker cannot help is that the schizophrenic siblings are not generally capable of providing their own point of view, as they are suffering not only from their illness but from the serious toll the treatments have taken on them. But it is a badly needed counterpoint. It is hard to see a story about mental illness that does not include any voices from the mentally ill. I think it could have benefited from more of an effort to present to the reader what their experiences were like through research and interviews with other schizophrenic people. I certainly would have appreciated it, the ill siblings often feel more like objects to be managed than people, and it often left a bad taste in my mouth.

I also found that the emphasis on the mother and two daughters was sometimes too bogged down with their history and grudges. Again, these are all entirely understandable, but much of the end of the book is made up almost entirely of the daughters' attempts to work through their anger from their childhood. They have suffered immensely and I am full of sympathy for them, but when we dive into their specific ways of coping with these old traumas, the book can lose focus. It also made me feel weird about the mother, Mimi, who is seen by the daughters as having prioritized their ill brothers over their own needs, and this is generally presented as the factual account. We find later that Mimi is rather determined not to present her own point of view, but it does make it feel lopsided. I cannot imagine what kind of choices she was presented with, and choosing to continue to care for her ill sons was certainly a choice that had consequences, but it's unclear what other options this family had. Every choice was a difficult one and relying so heavily on the daughters' accounts pulls us out of that impossible situation.

And for the last of my nitpicks, it is again no fault of Kolker's, but the science part of the narrative is quite interesting, but we find ourselves in the sad state at the end of the book where while significant changes in approach and thinking have been made, the way we treat schizophrenia has hardly changed at all and it will likely be decades before those changes come about. I think maybe it was my fault as a reader, expecting there to be some big shift around the next corner, but it could also be the way the book is structured and presented.

Yes I know this has been one of those reviews that is mostly negative even though my feelings on the book are mostly positive, but I am confident this book has enough people singing its praises that I feel its important to say them. I'd also like to note that Kolker often refers to those with schizophrenia as "mad" or "insane" and those who do not have it as "sane," which was not my favorite. There is also a really really really significant amount of domestic violence and child molestation in this book, if those are difficult topics for you, I suspect this book will be Too Much.
Profile Image for Beverly.
774 reviews266 followers
June 15, 2020
The Scourge of Schizophrenia

This frightening and seemingly unfathomable, true story is about a family with 12 children in which 6 of the boys develop schizophrenia. So much suffering is hard to take in. For not only did the sick boys endure unbelievable hardships, the well were left to take care of themselves. Parents of one sick child ignore their healthy children, but when there are so many, this behaviour is a lot closer to neglect. Time and time again, reading this, I grew angry at the parents. The father was never home and the mother acted for the most part as if nothing was happening. Both were able to put a positive spin on the horror happening at home and lots of secrets were kept.

Along with the family's internal politics, the author tells us the history of schizophrenia treatment and how the Galvin family was able to eventually help with learning why and how this terrible illness happens. He also addressed how it can be treated in the future and about the many mistakes of the past.
Profile Image for Nicole.
371 reviews12.6k followers
May 10, 2022
Bardzo rzetelny reportaż.
Profile Image for Julie .
3,983 reviews58.9k followers
March 9, 2021
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker is a 2020 Doubleday publication.

This is a hard review to write.

I knew going in the book was bound to be a difficult read, but I had no idea how emotionally draining it would become. I also didn’t realize, until I finally sat down to write this review, how conflicted I would still feel about it…

Don and Mimi Galvin started their family in the mid-forties and continued having children, despite doctor’s orders, until the mid-sixties, eventually adding a total of twelve children to their family. While the size of their family raised eyebrows, they seemed well adjusted- at least on the surface. But, behind closed doors the family was trying to internally cope with an epidemic of mental illness.

Meanwhile, those children who were not afflicted, were left to their own devices, emotionally neglected, and were at times victims of horrific abuse inflicted on them by their mentally ill siblings.

The author alternates the developments in the Galvin family with facts about Schizophrenia and mental illness, the way psychiatry approached it, the medical treatments, genetics and environmental connections through the years. I was amazed by the attitudes about mental illness and the effects of the drugs prescribed to help control the disease, with the side effects greatly reducing the quality of life and leading to an early death at times. I just can’t imagine!

While I agree that the author took a very measured and delicate approach with the family, I still picked up on a distinct narrowing of blame, despite all efforts to avoid it. I think that even now, with all the various avenues of support available, with the push to destigmatize mental illness, there is still a feeling of shame attached to it for many people of a certain era.

In the seventies, mental illness was often handled privately in families, or labeled as some other type of illness, because no one wanted to admit, sometimes not even to themselves, what the true nature of an illness might be. I’m not making excuses for anyone, but some will want to judge this family by today’s standards, which is not entirely fair.

I had to wonder if Mimi also suffered from a form of mental illness herself, or if her ‘magical thinking’, acting as though everything was normal, was a coping mechanism for someone who has lost control of her life, who is watching her children suffer greatly, and is helpless to prevent it. Perhaps her actions were an attempt to hold herself together- because what would happen if she collapsed under the strain?

The only good thing that has come from this terribly painful situation is that the family DNA has been beneficial in the study of this very difficult disease, opening up avenues in understanding genetics, treatment, or maybe even prevention- which gives the reader much needed hope after watching a family endure such incredible pain for so long.

This is an agonizing book to sink oneself into. My heart went out this family. My feelings are all over the place, though. I’m pained by some of the judgments passed, while also understanding why one might feel that way about the Galvin’s. Although, I have to admit, if I had been in Mimi’s shoes, I would have been completely overwhelmed. It sounds unbearable.

I once knew a couple who had four children- one of which has beaten cancer. While the child was in treatment, I could see how hard it was to divide the ratio of time between the sick child and the healthy children. I see that it’s not fair, but I also saw a support system in place, there were people around to pick up the slack, to talk to, to provide counseling, although it’s rarely enough.

I didn’t see that Mimi had much of this kind of support. In fact, she once admitted she had no one to talk to, and frankly her children’s lives were obviously at risk too, as it was so shockingly made clear.

My point being that apparently people are still judging mental illness in a different way, and Mimi wasn't given the help and support she might have if her children had been physically handicapped or ill.

At the same time, Mimi's response to her daughter’s revelations was almost too appalling for me to digest. My brain is still on overload, and I remain very torn on how to feel about this book. I really can’t see how anyone could have a pat answer, though.

It’s a painful story to read, incredible on so many levels, but also one that is compelling, and informative. I’m glad I read the book because it has awakened a desire to learn more about severe mental illness and to better understand the needs of families living with this disease.

4 stars
Profile Image for JanB .
1,113 reviews2,160 followers
July 26, 2020
“For a family, schizophrenia is, primarily, a felt experience, as if the foundation of the family is permanently tilted in the direction of the sick family member. Even if just one child has schizophrenia, everything about the internal logic of that family changes.”

Few of us have been untouched by mental illness, either in our own families or in one we know. Most families with one mentally ill child struggles. Having six is unfathomable.

Between 1945 and 1965, Mimi and Don Galvin had 12 children, 10 boys and two girls. They were the picture of a successful and beautiful family, but what was happening behind closed doors was anything but. Eventually, 6 of their 10 boys were affected by schizophrenia. The average age of onset is late teens/early 20s so by the time the oldest son exhibited symptoms, their family was complete.

The search for an explanation and a cure became all-encompassing. The lack of knowledge in the medical and psychological community and what this family endured, especially the mother, was heartbreaking and infuriating. The prevailing wisdom at the time was nurture (especially the mother’s role) trumped nature. The children who were well were profoundly affected as well, especially the girls.

Interspersed amid the personal story of this family, the author takes us through the history of schizophrenia and the scientific advances that have been made, and he does it in an accessible way. The Gavin family, with so many affected, was instrumental into the study of the disease.

There is no happy ending, for there is no cure and the treatment was often as devastating as the illness itself. However, the author treats the subject with compassion and understanding which sheds a light on mental illness and its devastating effects.

I’m certain that every family so affected by mental illness has a different story to tell, and it must be remembered that this is simply the Gavin family’s story, and not indicative of all families with a mentally ill member. Each son’s disease presented differently. The Gavin family had extenuating circumstances with the sheer number of children affected and the veil of secrecy, denial, and dysfunction in the home. But what family dealing with their circumstances wouldn’t be dysfunctional? We’ve come a long way in the field of mental illness, but not long enough.

I applaud the family members who were incredibly brave in allowing the author access and allowing such a painful personal story to be told in the hope of furthering understanding and removing the veil of secrecy and shame that often accompanies mental illness.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,878 followers
May 26, 2020

This book was a bit of a chaotic hot mess at the beginning, and I almost gave up on it a couple of times. The author meanders through long descriptions of sewing shut the eyes of birds for falconry, then into tangents about the history of studying mental illness, and a whole bunch of other stuff I've forgotten. I stuck with it because I wanted to know about the family, and it did get more coherent after awhile.

It's not the done thing here in America to tell people how many children they should have. But if you have seven or eight of them, and you are leaving the older ones home to care for (and terrorize) the younger ones whilst you go off trying to be part of the jet set, you should probably not crank out any more chubby cherubs.

Of course, it's not the fault of the parents that so many of their sons had schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, but the neglect is their fault. If you have grown sons with serious mental illness, it's just plain bad parenting to let them be alone with their defenseless little sisters. What happened to those girls seems like it should be unforgivable, but the youngest daughter has found it in her heart to forgive. So, blessings upon her. She's a better woman than I am.
Profile Image for Robin Hobb.
Author 272 books96.3k followers
November 9, 2022
This was a difficult book to read. I took it in slow pieces. Sometimes I set it down for days, not hours, as I let the course of the events settle into my mind. Often I asked myself, as a parent, what would U have done?

As you venture in, discard the idea that schizophrenia is 'split personality.' Move away from "The Three Faces of Eve.' This is not a voyeuristic tale of mental illness.

It is, and is not, a book about schizophrenia. It is, and is not, a book about a family struck by misfortune.

Twelve children, ten boys followed by two girls were the offspring. Not all the children became mentally ill, but all suffered the consequences, including the parents.

If you have mental health issues in your extended family, this book is terrifying as it chips away at nurture versus nature to reveal that there are genetic factors that may predispose a child to mental illness. There are physical factors, such as insufficient choline in the diet of a pregnant woman that may cause the development of her unborn child to skew toward mental illness.

One bit that fascinated me was the idea that just as 'fever' was once regarded as a disease and is now more of a symptom, schizophrenia is possibly one of a number of disorders that can appear on a spectrum including autism, bipolar and epilepsy.

There is a frank look at how the medications prescribed to quiet the symptoms of mental illness may lead to severe physical consequences, and even death. That's a devastating thought if you stop to wonder how many people suffered a 'cure' that was possibly worse than the disease.

There are heroic people in this book. I was most impressed and humbled by the courage of the Galvin family, not only in contributing tissue and blood samples to scientific research but by laying bare the story of how the illness affected the family and the bonds of family. The tenacity of researcher Lynn DeLisi is remarkable as she pursued her belief that researching families would lead to knowledge about mental illness.

The accounts of the family's life are told in chapters that focus on one or another of the children or parents as the years unfold. Interspersed are chapters about the research scientists that tirelessly pursued an understanding of the brain disorder.

This isn't an easy read but I found it to be very rewarding and enlightening.

As a writer, it put my thoughts onto new paths as I reconsidered how mental illness is depicted in our genre. Consider Star Trek, TNG or Batman or Superman. How are villains who are obviously deranged dealt with? As a writer, how do I deal with characters who are mentally disturbed? As a reader or viewer, do I accept the solutions that popular fiction suggest?

It's all grist for the peculiar mill that is the mind of this writer.
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
546 reviews4,464 followers
June 3, 2021
This is a horrifying, yet fascinating look at a family in which six out of twelve children were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The author tells the story of this family while also discussing what was understood about the disease in the 50s/60s. The vast majority of this book was beautifully handled, but toward the end of the book, the author's bias toward one of the daughters becomes clear with the addition of a section that didn't need to be there.

I'm now even more sure of this bias because, when I pointed it out in my review on Booktube, that daughter was in my comments section, justifying the work of the author, who obviously became a friend to this family during his research. I've since removed the comment thread because I decided it really crossed a boundary. The screenshots will live forever on my phone, though, because it's one of the weirdest things to happen to me in my six-year Booktube career.
Profile Image for Tammy.
494 reviews419 followers
January 2, 2020
This is a harrowing and intricate nonfiction account of an all-American family of twelve (ten boys and two girls) born between 1945 and 1965. I can’t begin to imagine having a family of this size much less cope with the onset and aftermath of six of the boys’ schizophrenia. There is abuse among family members as well as what is now considered to be abusive treatment of the afflicted. The Galvin family was instrumental in the research of brain disease given the number of diagnoses and misdiagnoses within the family. Each of the ill boys’ symptoms presented differently. So, this book chronicles not only the experiences of the ill and healthy members but also the ongoing research into brain diseases and their treatment. The author treats the family with respect and as individuals who love, hurt, and hope.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
466 reviews1,276 followers
November 25, 2020
Yikes. This was a disturbing read on so many levels and so dense. It’s a work of nonfiction. Mimi and Don Galvin decided to have 12 kids. Why???? Six of those children, all male, developed schizophrenia. Yet, the parents were too busy trying to be the Joneses rather than addressing what was going on in the household - beyond the mental illness. Abuse - physical and sexual. With Mimi defending the sick ones at the cost of alienating the healthier children.

The parents did try to get the boys help eventually, but much remained unknown about the disease and the argument for nature vs nurture was pro environment in the 1950’s. We learn about the history and barbaric treatment of schizophrenia in the early years, with softer approaches emerging and nature - genetics - taking a front seat to the origins or expansion of the illness.

Much healing had to happen for those without the illness. Mostly away from the family from which it took place. The resentments, the forgiveness and the hope for a future that will better understand and accept schizophrenia and for those who suffer with it and around it.
February 11, 2021
I am not sure how to put into word just how affecting Hidden Valley Road is, but I will give it a try here in this review. It's a heavy and dense one that took me a while to read. It wasn't one I wanted to pick up and read, but it was a book about a family I wanted to understand.

Robert Kolker delivers a powerful look at schizophrenia and the quest to understand it through the Galvin Family. Don and Mimi Galvin, the perfect American family image, had 12 children with six sons diagnosed with schizophrenia. Hidden Valley Road is a terrifying portrait of a family in crisis and swallowed up by blame and shame from society's expectations of the perfect mother, wife, and family. Mimi raised her children in the baby boomers' years when so little was known about schizophrenia. A time when psychiatrists spoke of "schizophrenogenic mothers" who caused "mental illness through bad parenting." An overbearing mother who coddles her children were blamed by over-parenting their children.

"If bad parenting caused any of these diseases, we'd all be in big, big trouble."

Drawing on interviews with family members, he tells us their heartbreaking story with empathy. Mimi is a hard person to understand and through Margaret and Mary, the two youngest siblings, we learn about Mimi mostly through them. Mimi devoted herself to motherhood and making a home for her family. I can only imagine she never questioned she wouldn't devote herself or would not be a good mother.

"And so I was crushed," Mimi said. "Because I thought I was such a good mother. I baked a cake and a pie every night. Or at least had Jell-O with whipped cream."

My heart broke for Mimi as she hid in the wall of Hidden Valley in shame as she tries to cope and denies the madness around her. We see how mothers' expectations and blame denied her of seeing and understanding her family's crisis as her children slipped further into madness.

"She kept the family together. "One reason why there aren't other families like the Galvins being studied is because any other family like this wouldn't be a family. ~Kolker

"To be a member of the Galvin family is to never stop tripping on land mines of family history, buried in odd places, stashed away out of shame."

"What sort of early interventions might have helped them before the medications took their toll, neutralizing them without curing them? And what about the thousands of people who couldn't afford what her son had—who languish because of a lack of resources, or a stigma from a society that would prefer to pretend that people like them do not exist?"

As devastating as the Galvin's story is, it is also a hopeful one for understanding more about schizophrenia learned from the family. My heart broke for the time lost for the family but hopeful for the living families' future.
Profile Image for Canadian Reader.
1,030 reviews
April 22, 2020
Kolker presents an interesting enough story about a large Colorado family plagued by schizophrenia. He also explores some of the research that has been done on this fairly common but devastating mental illness that affects one in one hundred people. Unfortunately, Kolker is not the reliable, skilled writer the material required, and he appears not to have been assisted by an attentive, knowledgeable editor . The book is too long and the writing is sometimes careless. (For example, at one point the author confuses a hockey player’s facial “orbital” fracture with the “occipital lobe” of the brain.) The conclusion is particularly muddled, rambling, and pedestrian. Ultimately, a missed opportunity and not a book I’d recommend.
Profile Image for Beata.
698 reviews1,058 followers
August 24, 2020
This was, I think, my first book tackling one of the most mysterious diseases, schizophrenia. Mr Kolker explains the ways it was treated in the past in a most accessible way, at least I, not belonging to a medical profession, understood most of it, which does not mean I remembered everything as there is a lot of information, including names of the doctors and those of the medicaments.
Mr Kolker took a sad history of one American family, the Galvins, living in Colorado, as the background for his informative non-fiction. Mimi and Don Galvin had twelve children, and six of them, boys, developed schizophrenia as they grew up. These unusual cases, six male siblings suffering from this medical condition, allowed doctors to do research into the reasons behind schizophrenia which provided a better understanding of it.
What made this story sad for me was not only the cases of this terrible disease, but also other forms of abuse and neglect which were hard to read about.
All in all, this is not a book that puts a reader in an upbeat mood, but it is definitely worth the read. It is written clearly and gives a broad picture of ways to define and cure a disease which terrifies us.
PS The Gavins seem to be a big family, but last year I watched some news on a Polish family consisting of 21 children (2018) plus parents.
Profile Image for Carol.
344 reviews318 followers
January 3, 2021
****4.5 STARS****

The story follows the gut-wrenching odyssey of the Galvin family. Don and Mimi Galvin had ten boys and two girls between 1945 and 1965. Six of the couple's sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The author skillfully weaves the Galvins’ story with the history of schizophrenia and its devastating effects on both the family and the afflicted.

Even without the diagnosis of schizophrenia, their personal family story was intimate and spellbinding for me. Elements of the narrative resonate because I grew up in a large, Catholic family and I am also a long-time resident of Colorado Springs. The earlier years of the Galvin marriage in my hometown included many familiar landmarks that made the story even more compelling. I’m surprised that I never heard of this family!

It is a fascinating biography, well written and unputdownable.
Profile Image for Lucia McKenzie.
64 reviews5 followers
April 20, 2020
This book hit close to home for me because my brother has Schizophrenia. It is one of the most slow and painful ways to lose someone, and the impact it has on the entire family is devastating.

For those unfamiliar with Schizophrenia, the average age of onset is early twenties and it affects men at a significantly higher rate than women. The illness manifests in a variety of ways, some cases much more severe than others. What many people don’t realize is that it is a degenerative illness. The deterioration of the brain is similar to that of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Medications can help suppress the symptoms, but tragically, no amount of medication can bring back the person you knew and loved.

I don’t have a problem with the book itself, this family’s experience is extraordinary and needs to be told. What I do struggle with is this being Oprah’s book club choice. Oprah is arguably the most influential woman in the world, so when I heard this was her choice I was so excited. This terrible mental illness barely gets any attention so for such a prominent figure to use her platform to bring awareness to thousands of people is incredible. My excitement quickly turned to dismay as I began reading. One of the biggest problems with this illness is that it has such a stigma and this book just further inflames that stigma more. Much of the book focuses on the most horrific and disturbing abuse from one of the brothers on the younger sisters. The author does state toward the end of the book that schizophrenia didn’t make him commit these terrible crimes, and the author has reiterated that point in recent interviews, but it’s not enough. There needs to be a massive disclaimer at the start of the book making it clear that this is not a reflection of what Schizophrenia looks like and the vast majority of people with schizophrenia are NOT violent especially not in the ways described.

A couple things I did like about the book: I think it does a good job of showing the gravity and tragedy of what it’s like to lose a loved one to schizophrenia, let alone 6 loved ones. My brother’s battle is very similar to the eldest son, Donald’s, and it was a really emotional experience for me reading his story. I also enjoyed the research elements, I specifically found the findings at the end of the book really fascinating. I only hope that they can continue to build on this research and find better treatments for this terrible illness.

It was an emotional roller coaster reading this book. I finished it over a week ago but haven’t been able to write a review because I have such a grab bag of feelings about it all. Overall, I would not recommend this book unless you are adequately educated about schizophrenia and you’re interested in the research aspects.
April 23, 2021
4+ stars!

Shocking and powerful. Extremely insightful. Well researched. A truly masterful written account of the history of schizophrenia research through one family’s devastating battle with the disease.

Don and Mimi Galvin had twelve children born in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Six of their ten sons would be diagnosed with schizophrenia by the time they reached their twenties. At a time when mental illness was not openly discussed, much of their home life became hidden and secretive. There wasn’t a lot of medical knowledge about the disease and the family became an important part of scientific research into the genetics and possible triggers behind the disease.

There is a lot of information to absorb within this book. At times I felt bogged down by all the statistics and medical facts, but the information was necessary to provide the details needed to understand the lack of knowledge for treatment of the disease. It is a story that I had to read in small chunks over the course of several months. It is a heavy read that I needed time to process. The experiences that this family lived through are quite shocking and upsetting. With that being said, it’s a truly powerful and important read for anyone looking to learn more about the history of schizophrenia and the development of how it has been treated over time.

A few of my main takeaways from the novel were the amount of shame and secrecy the family lived with. There wasn’t enough knowledge to provide the family with the proper support at the time so a lot was hidden or “swept under the rug” which is so very sad. I also grieved for the children who did not get sick. Their parents needed to focus so strongly on their sick brothers that they often felt ignored or outcast. They lost out on a strong relationship with their parents due to their siblings illness and they lived with the constant fear that they would become sick next. A couple quotes from the book that hit me hard in this regard:

“The children who did not become mentally ill were, in many respects, as affected as their brothers.”

“...growing up in a climate of perpetual mental illness.”

Overall, a unique, highly impactful and unforgettable book that I highly recommend!

Thank you to my lovely local library for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for Jen.
84 reviews254 followers
December 8, 2020
5⭐ This was an incredible read. At so many points, I had to keep reminding myself that this was non-fiction and became emotional reading all that the people in this family went through.

Robert Kolker examines the Galvin family in this book and interspersed through their entire life story is the story of the developments and changes in the study of schizophrenia through those same years. It goes back and forth, chapter after chapter, reading the clinical history alongside the history of this family and that balance really connected for me.

Don and Mimi Galvin had 12 children between 1945 and 1965 and 6 of them developed schizophrenia. This was a tough read because although the positive is that the family's samples have contributed greatly to research and progress with understanding schizophrenia, they were real people who lived through many challenging successive stages of understanding and outlook and judgement of the illness. The concern over treatment of the boys who were showing symptoms and the stigma of the minds of the time who labelled the schizophrenogenic mother as the cause were just a few of the factors that remarkably led these boys to live at home in a house that, although one they presented as cookie cutter and one with upwardly mobile parents, was behind the scenes already a bit off and tumultuous. The youngest of the 12 children were the only two girls and I really felt for their terrible, honest stories of coming to terms with the scars that they now bear as the "healthy" ones who themselves did not have schizophrenia but were very marked and harmed by the illness in horrible ways.

The author interviewed all of the surviving family members and tried to present as authentic a picture as he could and it was both compelling and heart wrenching as well as being insightful and medically informative. There is so much more I can say about this and I had much discussion with my family about the interesting things that I learned reading the book.

I +++ recommend this for anyone interested in reading about schizophrenia and its history and connection to this incredible family 💓
Profile Image for Caroline .
406 reviews550 followers
March 5, 2022

Hidden Valley Road is about the Galvins, a family of twelve children, half of whom developed schizophrenia. This was obviously a devastation to the family, but their loss was science’s gain. Robert Kolker skillfully wove the incredible story of this family with the fascinating science of schizophrenia, explaining exactly how researchers' understanding of the disease has improved over time. Studying the Galvins helped researchers significantly advance their understanding of this appalling illness.

Schizophrenia is remarkably complex. Despite decades of research, it remains frustratingly mysterious, and the nature-versus-nurture debate that surrounds it has never fully abated. The role of genes, however, is becoming clearer to researchers, and Kolker chronicled this and explained the gene science as accessibly as he could (no small feat). Most interesting was learning about the evolution of this research, thanks to the tireless and passionate efforts of a few notable scientists (who get the ample attention they deserve in this book). Current treatment is severely inadequate--although still better than nothing--but astounding new break-throughs in understanding the disease could make life-changing in-utero intervention a reality.

Kolker’s research into the Galvin family was extensive, and he painted a vividly tragic portrait of life in their chaotic household. He wrote about the family with sensitivity while holding nothing back in describing the extreme toll that schizophrenia took, not just on the six affected children but on the entire family. Life in this home was hell--genuinely dangerous because of violent outbursts from some of the schizophrenic children. Each day was unpredictable and strange. At the end, the unaffected children get some time in the spotlight, and now, well into adulthood, each is terribly scarred.

Unfortunately, Kolker left out a necessary part of this story: the psychology of the parents. It’s hard to comprehend the depth of the grief they must have felt as they watched one child after another fall ill with a horrible disease. I expected Kolker to touch on how multi-dimensional that kind of grief is. In an instant, a number of things fell apart for these parents: There was the obvious grief they felt over watching their children lose their minds but also grief over the loss of their hopes and dreams for those children and grief over the loss of their eventual life as empty-nesters. Finally, the parents totally lost the lifestyle they so enjoyed--a materialistic and status-obsessed lifestyle, but nonetheless, another loss to grieve. None of this comes across. It’s possible this hole in the story is owing to lack of information available to Kolker, but still, it’s there.

I read Kolker’s riveting Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery in 2014, and over the years I’d wondered now and then whether he’d publish another book, and, if yes, why it was taking so long. Having read Hidden Valley Road, I now understand why it took so long. It’s because the schizophrenia in this family is far from simple. If not written about carefully, the Galvins could come across as a freak show, but both of Kolker’s books show that he’s considerate and very cognizant of writing about people with fairness. He brought the Galvins to life as flesh-and-blood people, and this comes across strongly at the end especially, when the children are adults. With the science, he had the lay reader in mind and broke it down, including only what was necessary, and remaining objective and respectful when discussing the use of psychiatric medication. Hidden Valley Road has cemented Kolker as a sympathetic nonfiction writer, and it’s the book to read for a thorough and humanizing look at schizophrenia.
Profile Image for Lolly K Dandeneau.
1,825 reviews231 followers
February 6, 2020
Before my review, I just want to say this book left a lump in my throat, it was an emotional journey. I felt it in my gut and wish I could reach out and support every single one of the Galvin children, parents too.

via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/
'Mary’s mother is well practiced at laughing off moments like these, behaving as if nothing is strange. To do anything else would be the same as admitting that she lacks any real control over the situation- that she cannot understand what is happening in her house, much less how to stop it.'

Hidden Valley Road is the story of a family, created by Don and Mimi Galvin (ten boys and two girls) picked apart by the ravages of schizophrenia, a disease that takes the foundation of the family and ‘permanently tilted it in the direction of the sick family member’. What happens when it appears in several family members? When, like the fear of it’s contagion, the parents aim a laser focus on each child afraid they may be next? How does this attention harm every sibling? How can the parents possibly dodge the terror of, ‘who will be next’ ? Is it any surprise that fear of odd behavior in their own children will follow the siblings later in life?

In the beginning, Mimi and Don envisioned a life full of ‘limitless hope and confidence’. Don was ambitious, and war bound after joining the Marine Corp Reserves, before heading out near Okinawa where he was to be stationed during the war in 1945, he married Mimi. While he was away, Mimi gave birth to their firstborn son. Soon followed more children, born while her husband came and went for his career, at times he was home from Georgetown (finishing his degree) and Rhode Island to the Navy’s General Line School. Focused always on his career, which came first, Mimi was left either trailing after him with the children or awaiting his return alone with their offspring. She with dreams of a lawyer husband and a life where she could raise their brood alongside their family in New York, bided time until the war was over. Don was using the military as a means to his end, a career in law or better yet, political science. The end of his service came but he reneged on their plan and instead joined the Air Force, which lead them surprisingly to Colorado Springs.

Despite Mimi’s disappointment and after many shed tears, she began to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. Together, she and Don discovered a passion for falconry, one which they shared with their boys, coming of age in the 1950’s. (I found this fascinating). Mimi rushed headfirst into raising her children all on her own without the help of nannies, family anyone. She would raise her boys to be cultured through art, music, nature and as more children came (if Don had his way Mimi would be pregnant forever) she worked even harder at being the best mother anyone could be; their clan would be the ‘model’ American family. Her passion for motherhood knew no bounds! It fed her ego, there was a special pride in ‘being known as a mother would could easily accomplish such a thing’, raising such a brood with unwavering determination and love. Why such a large family, well if it made Don happy, it was her joy to provide more offspring. Personally, as a mother with two children I found her enthusiasm and energy incredible, I get tired just thinking about it.

The dynamic in the couples marriage changed, Don’s career in intelligence yet another thing to keep Mimi at a distance, while she remained the rock for the children through the years, the one left to supervise, a ‘happy warrior’. But her dream of perfect children, everyone in line, the ‘model American family’ was about to shatter. Battling the common childhood illnesses like chicken pox, everyone knowing their chores, cooking, cleaning, for a large family is a mean feat but battling a little understood mental illness in a time where there wasn’t much compassion to be found in anyone straying from the social norms was a terrible mark against you. When the cracks first appeared in the eldest, most adored son (the namesake Don Jr.) who often watched his siblings, bullying them, setting them up against each other, it was largely ignored. The busy family didn’t have time for squabbles, the father’s favorite was believed. Even when he would smash dishes, and act out with violence, Don and Mimi behaved as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening, confusing and horrifying the other children. Something was wrong, no one knew it more than Donald himself. He would take the mental disturbances with him away to college, where it would soon show itself.

With the two older boys eventually out of the house, and Don Sr’s professional prospects, order had to be maintained, there could be no admittance of anything being off kilter. Such a thing is a stain that could ruin Don’s career and the Galvin’s social standing. Maybe the boys wreaked havoc, ending in bruises when they were home visiting, but ‘boys will be boys’ and need to become men and stand on their own. Then Don Jr fell apart, again and again, and it was no longer easy to deny something was wrong, not when it could no longer be hidden from the public too. He would never climb out of his illness, despite medicine, science, doctors best efforts. Worse, the abuse their daughters suffered in silences, denial. The embarrassment of their brother’s illness a thing they felt ashamed about and resentful of.

I can’t do justice in a review, it’s hard to summarize what the entire Galvin family went through, the hope, the fear, the denial and sexual abuse. I think about those decades, where mothers were often blamed for any sign of mental decline, where shame was all that mental illness bought you. When turning to doctors often did more harm than good, even now medication that is meant to help navigate mental illnesses do the body, all it’s organs so much harm, but there aren’t many alternatives beyond avoiding medication altogether and that leaves you exactly in the same abyss you started from. It victimizes the person coping with the illness, but you can’t ignore the voices of the family members that are forced to cope with the illness too. Children that are neglected because the illness consumes so much energy within the family, the physicality of it. Science isn’t moving fast enough, despite leaps like studying the Galvins and why schizophrenia claimed some of the children and not others. It feels too late for the Galvins in many ways. As much as we make judgments about Mimi and Don’s attempt to pretend everything is normal, how can we not empathize, imagining being in their place. Parenting is difficult enough, much of what we deny is fear motivated, comes form a place of love, and sure sometimes our own egos.

I’m always drawn to stories and studies about mental illness. I have a schizophrenic uncle, my own son is on the autism spectrum (he isn’t the only one in our extended family)… but for my uncle, I have seen how people fear mental illness, the hopelessness of my grandmother (when she was still alive) and yet immense love and support for her son who would not take his medication, and lives the life of a loner, often taken advantage of and there is nothing anyone can do. There is so much we do not know, and it’s hard for many to trust doctors when some of their treatments have done more harm than good. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless, your choices limited. Of course we aim to fix things, who wants to watch their family member suffer. It is reality still that with diseases people often find public support, compassion yet where there is mental illness most reactions are fear based and the public often judges those coping with it a ‘lost cause’. It’s the terrible result of little education. Doctors can only treat as well as the scientific discoveries and breakthroughs, but behind the illness are very real human beings.

This book is heartbreaking, and I have great admiration for all the Galvin children (those still alive are full grown adults now, of course). This is really their story. They own it, they live in the aftermath and each makes choices based on their own emotional compass. Their story broke my heart and it will stay with me. Yes, read it.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Doubleday Books
Profile Image for Marialyce (absltmom, yaya).
1,909 reviews727 followers
March 5, 2021
Picture a perfect family. Good looking parents and twelve children who were so gorgeous. The family seemed to have it all together, and yes, I did write twelve children! Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to have it all. He was in the service and had been posted to Colorado where his twelve children were to be raised. His wife Mimi was a stay-at-home mom (she had to be) and had the full-time job of raising these ten boys and two girls. All seemed to be going ever so well as all of the children were bright, eager, and the family seemed to be on the way up. However, life for the Galvins was to change dramatically and tragically. Donald, their oldest son started acting irrationally. He was his team's quarterback, successful in his studies, but something was wrong. He and his brother Jim would get into out and out blow out fights and eventually he was paced in the Pueblo Hospital and finally diagnosed with schizophrenia. The family was devastated and of course in the 1950's very little was known about this mental tragedy. As time went on, more of the Galvin children started acting strange and dangerous. In total, six of the boys were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Life became a total nightmare for all the family.

There was not much to be done except to medicate which of course had its own issues, Thorazine, being one of the main drugs prescribed. Once again, the bulk of raising this family fell mainly on the shoulders of Mimi. The boys progressed in and out of mental hospitals and it became like a revolving door, so much so that at one time three of them were in the hospital at the same time. After they were discharged, the boys would go home where chaos and mayhem ensued. Many of the boys would stop their medications and although some did marry and leave home, the unbelievable situations continued with one son eventually killing his wife and himself. The police would often be called to the home as the situations between the boys, now grown to men, would ramp up out of control with the remaining children locking themselves in their rooms. There seemed to be no solution, no answers as to why this occurred in such a large scale in this family.

And what about the children who were sane? How did they cope with the psychotic episodes that occurred before their eyes? Unbeknownst to their mother, two of the boys were molesting the girls and naturally they suffered the scars of this. One of the girls was sent to reside with a very wealthy family friend and did find some peace. However, the other girl simmered with resentment. Why was she left alone to face this?

This family did attract the attention of National Institute of Mental Health, one of the first families to be studied by them. They tried to find the causes and at the time lobotomy was a strategy. But who to blame? Of course, that blame often fell upon the mother who was thought to possibly be schizophrenic herself, or could it be she and Don were just too strict with their children? Somehow, you knew the mother would take the brunt of the blame. Even today the genetic material from the Galvins is studied so that the clues to stopping this heinous illness might be found.

Over the course of time, the boys saw many doctors and professionals but since little or nothing was known about the disease, there was not much help in that direction sadly.

This was a family in turmoil, broken by an illness that so many were ill equipped to explain. My heart broke for them all, but especially bled for Mimi. She was such a stalwart woman, always thinking that tomorrow would be a sunnier day. She loved with an undying love all her offspring and as the surviving sane children grew, they came to the realization that she did her very best.

The story so well constructed by Robert Kolker, rocked me to my core. Even days after finishing, I find myself reflecting on the lives of these children and their parents and thinking how fortunate my husband and I were to have strong healthy children. Although greatly improved since the fifties, mental health in this country still has miles to go. We never know when the arm of tragedy can strike but for the Galvin family, it seemed to never leave.

I definitely recommend this book for its authenticity, excellent writing, and a look into a world where none of us would ever want to venture.
Profile Image for Intellectual_Thighs.
233 reviews332 followers
November 23, 2021
Γονίδια που πλέκονται σε μοναδικές πλεξούδες και φτιάχνουν σύνθετους ανθρώπους. Φωτεινά ανοιχτόχρωμα μάτια. Λαμπερά μαλλιά. Λεπτά χαρακτηριστικά προσώπου. Κάτασπρα χαμόγελα. Γεροδεμένα, υγιή κορμιά. Έξυπνοι μαθητές, ικανοί αθλητές, τα παιδιά της Αγίας αμερικανικής οικογένειας που προβάλλεται σε σήριαλ και διαφημίσεις, μαμάδες που ψήνουν πίτες ντυμένες άψογα και πατεράδες επιτυχημένοι επαγγελματικά που κάνουν μικρά αντίγραφα που θα μεγαλώσουν και με τη σειρά τους θα σπείρουν τα τέλεια γονίδιά τους. Ή και όχι.

Ο Ντον και η Μίμι Γκάλβιν έκαναν 12 παιδιά. Και είδαν τα 6 από τα 10 αγόρια τους να ακολουθούν μια παρανοϊκή λιτανεία που κατέληγε στη σχιζοφρένεια. Ίδια και διαφορετικά γονίδια, ίδια και διαφορετική ανατροφή, ίδια και διαφορετικά συμπτώματα. Πόσο σύνθετη ασθένεια, πόσο πολύπλοκη η προσπάθεια ανάλυσής της, πόσο διαφορετικά εκδηλώνεται και πόσο σταθερά μακριά βρισκόμαστε από τη θεραπεία ή την πρόληψή της παρά τις ερευνητικές προσπάθειες χρόνων.

Το βιβλίο κινείται σε δύο παράλληλες αφηγήσεις. Η μία είναι η περιγραφή της ιστορίας της οικογένειας, ο γάμος του Ντον και της Μίμι, ο ερχομός των παιδιών, τα πρώτα ψυχωσικά επεισόδια, οι διαφορετικοί τρόποι που εκδηλώθηκε στον καθένα η ασθένεια, η βία, οι παραισθήσεις, η σεξουαλική παρενόχληση των κοριτσιών, όλα δοσμένα ως γεγονότα με κάποια συναισθηματική απόσταση, ώστε ο αναγνώστης να αισθανθεί αυτά που θέλει ο ίδιος να αισθανθεί, χωρίς εκβιασμούς. Κι όμως. Διαβάζοντας δημιουργείται έντονα το αίσθημα της κλειστοφοβίας και μιας αγωνίας που κορυφώνεται και ηρεμεί, όπως η επήρεια των φαρμάκων πάνω στα αγόρια, γιατί τα γεγονότα από μόνα τους είναι αρκετά, δεν χρειάζονται φιοριτούρες σε μια τέτοια ιστορία.

Στο δεύτερο κομμάτι του βιβλίου παρακολουθούμε την πορεία μελέτης της σχιζοφρένειας, από την φροϋδική προσέγγιση και τη σχιζοφρενογόνο μητέρα μέχρι τις σύγχρονες γονιδιακές προσεγγίσεις και πειραματικές μεθόδους πρόληψης, με γλώσσα απλή και εύληπτη.

Η πραγματικότητα από μόνη της είναι σκληρή. Όμως είναι κοινή, τη μοιραζόμαστε και αυτό είναι μια παρηγοριά. Μπορούμε να αντέξουμε τη σκέψη της μοναξιάς ενός ανθρώπου που ζει μόνος του τη δική του πραγματικότητα;
October 24, 2021
This was a fascinating, intense and such a thought-provoking read, and I'd go as far as saying, that it is probably one of the best books that I've read. Mental illness is something that interests me no end, and this particular book centres around schizophrenia, and the profound impact it can have on the individuals themselves, and the people around them.

We probably all know of a person that has been touched by mental illness in their lives, but having six children suffering from schizophrenia, is almost unbelievable. Mimi and Don Galvin were the perfect American family to the public. They had twelve children, consisting of ten boys, and two girls. Six out of the ten boys developed schizophrenia, and behind closed doors, the family were very different.

Due to a lack of knowledge about schizophrenia, this family endured much suffering, and the Mother, seemingly tried to do what she could, which was love her children, and do what she could for them, but at times, she seemed in denial it was happening. Although I felt sympathy for Mimi, I questioned some of her answers, later on in the book. One of her sick sons, sexually abused some of her other children, including the girls, and Mimi brushed it off, using her son's schizophrenia as an excuse. Mental illness is never an excuse for sexually abusing another.

The book does not have a pleasant tone, and really, the ending is not a jolly one. We all know schizophrenia can be awful, as you never fully recover from it, and the medication that one takes to treat it, can overall be just as damaging.

I'm extremely grateful that we were given the chance to have an insight on what life may have been like for the Galvin family, and all the secrecy and strangely enough, embarrassment, that is associated with mental illness. This was an informative yet difficult read, but still, I'd recommend it to everybody. It makes one appreciate the medical advances we are able to assess nowadays.
Profile Image for Libby.
569 reviews160 followers
January 7, 2023
"The Galvin Home became a place where two different realities existed at the same time: the wrestling pit and the church choir: the wildness of the boys and the model family Don and Mimi believed they had. A little mischief could always be waved off, especially on a military base where competition and power and might were almost part of the drinking water.

But for many brothers--John, Michael, Richard, and Matt--there was a growing sense of being lost in the shuffle, even neglected, feeling less than safe, treated like a number and not a person, raised to take the illusion of protection as the real thing."

This is a nonfiction account of a family with 12 children, 6 of whom would end up with mental illness. Robert Kolker probes the background of the parents, Don and Mimi Galvin, as well as describing each of the children in some detail. How all this played out in the lives of nonaffected siblings is also discussed, especially as relates to the last two children, the only two girls, Margaret, and (Mary) Lindsay.

It's a heartbreaking story, unfolding with pain and tragedy. The heartbreak only began to be realized as the oldest son (there were 10 sons), Donald, began to show symptoms. At home, when his parents weren't around, Donald became a bully to his younger brothers. In high school, he felt pressure to perform and excel as his father had done but was feeling increasingly trapped and afraid.

The second son, Jim, was known to be rebellious, always trying to one-up Donald, for his parents' attention, but also as supreme bully. He hit on his brothers' girlfriends and got kicked out of Air Academy High School when a stunt endangered another boy's life. Unfortunately, both parents have learned how to deny the worst events in life and move on from them, therefore neither boy got the help they needed.

As a college student at Colorado State in the 1960s, Donald begins to have more problems, among them jumping into a bonfire. A breakup with a girlfriend sends him careening. He can't pay his rent and does not admit this to his parents. Looking for a free place to stay, he ends up in an abandoned fruit cellar, sleeping on a mattress. By this time, he had already passed one psych evaluation. But when he is sent for another evaluation in 1966, the doctor writes, "This boy represents some risk to himself and possibly to others. Possible schizophrenic reaction."

This was the beginning of an avalanche for the Galvin family. I think the author attempts to take a non-judgmental role in dissecting the behavior of the parents, but he does spend some time parsing out the viewpoints of the two sisters, both of whom were judgmental of their mother. The father's role was rarely dissected because he was never home. Don was first in the Navy, then in the Air Force, and something of a scholar, always looking for the next foot up in rank and prestige. Although it is said several times, especially by visitors/researchers, that Mimi was gracious and hospitable and clearly in over her head, there is little to no expectation of the father. How does this work? Clearly, it didn't. The youngest daughter does have a little about face when she steps into more caretaking duties and realizes the burden that Mimi had on her shoulders. This doesn't exempt Mimi from the extreme denialism that prevented the sick and the well from getting their needs met.

The family dynamics were of great interest to me, which I've only barely touched here. Of even greater interest was the way Kolker juxtaposed chapters about the history of mental illness, specifically schizophrenia and how it was treated, especially in the United States. The nature versus nurture debate has been long and complex. The author delves into it all, including discoveries made right up to before publishing his book. Recommended to those interested in mental health, the history of mental health treatment, or the science and people involved.
Profile Image for Donna Davis.
1,733 reviews228 followers
March 14, 2020
Happy anniversary, Doubleday. This is my thirtieth review for you.

Big thanks go to Net Galley and Doubleday for the review copy.

I wanted to read Kolker’s book because so little is written about schizophrenia for the general readership. My best friend’s older brother was schizophrenic, and sometimes she would phone me crying and whispering from the floor of her bedroom closet. The bro—let’s call him Marco--was a large person, over six feet tall with a towering red afro that made him appear even larger. He and my friend were both adopted, and their parents weren’t nearly that big. Marco hated taking his medication, and once he reached his teens, he self-medicated with every street drug he could get his hands on. As a result, he often became violent, breaking out all of the windows of the family home and assaulting his poor sweet mother with a crowbar before the cops arrived to haul him off to the hospital again.

And so I wondered, when I saw this book, whether this was a common experience (yes,) and what inroads had been made in the decades between then and now (very few.)

The Galvin family is an anomaly, a very large family of twelve children, half of whom were stricken and the other half traumatized from growing up with them. The family participated in The Human Genome Project, a compilation of genetic samples and other information aimed at unlocking Mother Nature’s terrible secrets. Of course, researchers were also absorbed in the question of nature versus nurture.

Kolker does an outstanding job of chronicling the Galvin family’s history alternately with passages about what was known about this disease at the time when the eldest sibling began to show symptoms, and what has been learned since. It’s a lot of information to organize and share, and who knows what information he weeded out as unnecessary, because one has to stop somewhere.
When the Galvin children were diagnosed in the mid-twentieth century, professionals in the field leaned heavily toward the idea that there was no hereditary cause for the condition, but instead embraced a “mother-as-monster” theory. Because of this, Mimi Galvin, the mother of all of those children, was inclined to stonewall rather than seek help. But who could blame her? Our society was only slightly removed from the days when the ‘crazy’ family member was locked in the attic.
(“That thumping sound? Oh dear heaven, perhaps that old raccoon has snuck back in. Enjoy your pie; we’ll chase him out of there after you’re on your way.”) To make matters more complicated, Don, father of the brood, had a high profile position in the U.S. military, and rumors of family drama could have impacted his career.

Like my friend’s family, the Galvins dealt with the noise, the horror, the disruption by moving to the far edges of town, seeking geographical isolation so that neighborly complaints need not be an added worry.

Here’s the difficult part of writing about schizophrenia: readers want to find a grand discovery at the end; if not a cure, then a new and impressive treatment, or an historic advance in eliminating the problem. But solutions are elusive, and because of the stubborn nature of this disease, what may seem ground breaking to a researcher looks like a big, fat so-what to the average reader.

All told, Kolker has done a fine job describing what has taken place within the family and within the field; I thought he was a little hard on Mimi, who made a lot of errors but was facing a terrible dilemma during a period when our culture was very different from today. That aside, I do recommend this book to you. It will be available April 7, 2020.
Profile Image for L A i N E Y.
396 reviews672 followers
December 16, 2020
“Children usually have no way of processing trauma beyond their own experience. And so, all too often, they blame themselves.”

What a fascinating book for a remarkable family.

Considering how much stigma still attach to mental illness t-o-d-a-y, in 2020, imagine how incredibly difficult it must have been fifty years ago. All the courage and tenacity and willpower to be able to live through that... Speechless.

The fact that the original researchers fought for over three decades and discovered important factors to potentially prevent the disease all together is just extraordinary.

It drove me almost to tears when, towards the end, we saw Peter kept saying “I’ll cooperate fully. I want to cooperate”. It’s about breaking your heart when you think about the implication of how he came to have that phrase as his mantra...
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,665 followers
March 5, 2021
I'm not sure how this ended up on my To-Read list, but there it was in a stack of holds brought out to my car courtesy of the library curbside service-one of the pandemic's stranger and more endearing phenomena; I knew nothing about this story when I turned to the first page.

Readers, I couldn't put it down.

Hidden Valley Road is the story of the Galvin family of Colorado Springs, CO: Don, Mimi and their twelve — yes, twelve— children born between 1945 and 1965. By the early 1970s, six of the twelve siblings would be diagnosed with schizophrenia and the Galvins would be gutted by a terrible, incurable disease.

The extent of this family's suffering is almost unimaginable: as they entered their late teens and early twenties, six brothers (ten Galvin boys were born before two girls, Margaret and Mary, arrived in the mid sixties; after Mary's birth in 1965, Mimi Galvin finally heeded her obstetrician's repeated warnings and had a hysterectomy) fell to the blows of mental illness. Hallucinations, violent outbursts, depression, and psychotic breaks resulted in multiple institutionalizations for each young man at various facilities around the state, a regimen of drugs that would eventually wear down the organs of several of those who survived into their later years, killing them with heart disease, and the shattering of the American Dream of a promising, gifted, successful family. Both sisters suffered sexual abuse and rape at the hands of at least one of their brothers. One son murdered his girlfriend and then shot himself. Several of the boys were subjected to molestation by a trusted priest and family friend.

The misery is massive, and yet Robert Kolker's masterful storytelling is so finely-nuanced, empathetic and well-paced that I never felt as if I were gawking pruriently at the scene of an accident. The story unfolds through the perspectives of multiple family members, with Mary, who changed her name to Lindsay while in boarding school, and her sister Margaret taking the lead. Alternating with the family's history is the search for the causes and treatments of schizophrenia, a quest that reads like a slow-burn thriller. The researchers who explore the Galvin family genetics, biology and psychology are fascinating characters whose work has transformed the science and treatment of schizophrenia. Kolker shows us how the theories behind the causes of schizophrenia have changed over time, resulting in dramatic and often devastating shifts in treatment, set against the backdrop of mental illness treatment in the United States- a terrible legacy of punishing institutionalization and drug therapy that harmed far more than it helped.

Ultimately, however, this is a story of hope and resilience. Years of determined research brought some answers, possible solutions, and a lessening of the stigma of schizophrenia for those who suffer from it, and their families who are often blamed for bringing it on. Kolker conveys the claustrophobic fear the Galvins faced as one brother after another broke under mental illness, but he does it in a way that doesn't elicit pity from the reader. Tragedy plagues this family, and yet they reached out and allowed their story to be told, without shame or judgment. It takes tremendous courage and generosity of spirit to understand that one's own tragic story can be of value to others who may be suffering, too.

A fascinating medical mystery and a beautiful rendering of an American family. Highly recommended.
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Author 2 books136 followers
June 2, 2021
New York Times 10 Best Books 2020
I fully agree with the NY Times editors. Hidden Valley Road is one of the best non-fiction books I have read in quite a while. I found it impressive for its compassionate portraits of people living with schizophrenia and its impact upon their families and its accessible yet scholarly historical analysis of the research and debates surrounding the causation and treatments for the disease.

Mimi and Donald Galvin aspired to be the ideal family living in post-World War II America. Don was an Air Force Academy official in Colorado Springs. Between 1945 and 1965, they had 12 children, ten boys and two girls; six boys developed schizophrenia.

Through in-depth interviews with family members, medical practitioners, researchers, and comprehensive reviews of medical records, Robert Kolker recreates the debilitating impact of the disease as it gradually infests the family. In addition, he provides compassionate portraits of each family member as they struggle to come to terms with their situation.

Family portraits alternate with chapters on the medical community's changing debates about the nature of the disease and its treatment. Since the Galvin family has one of the highest incidences of schizophrenia in one family, their gene pool and case histories become a significant source of data for the research community. The book's structure, its shifting perspectives over time is its great strength. I highly recommend it.

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