August 08

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

Another day, another must-read for Readheads.

This one is the true story of a family of twelve children, six of whom develop schizophrenia. Yep. True Story.

Written by US Author Robert Kolker (think Lost Girls in 2013) and published in 2020, Hidden Valley Road was listed by the New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 best books of 2020, critically acclaimed and selected for Oprah’s Book Club to boot. It also gets five stars from me.

On the surface, the Galvins were living the post-war American dream. The father, Don, was a World War II veteran and the mother, Mimi was an ambitious and selfless wife from a top shelf family. Together, they had ten boys and two girls between the years of 1945 and 1965. Outside, the family was the envy of many but inside, a bruising battle with mental illness was underway as one by one, six of their handsome and high achieving sons developed symptoms of schizophrenia.  

The book tracks day-to-day life in the Galvin house on Hidden Valley Road with the simultaneous evolution of the treatment of schizophrenia. From shock treatment to medications with the saddest of side effects; the Galvins saw and lived it all. The only thing they didn’t know at the time was just how much their family’s experience would go on to help a generation of researchers investigating the genetic origin for this disease.

I have to give it to Kolker. He tells a deeply traumatic story with respect and empathy.  It never feels in any way exploitative. Each family member’s experience is considered and, by the end of the book, there is a glimmer of hope both on the research front and for the family’s very existence.

Warning Readheads….Hidden Valley Road book will distress and sadden you. Just quietly, it may also put a lid on any big family fantasies you may be harbouring. That said, it is a devastingly good read about mental health, family, trauma, perseverance, empathy and science.

And that’s my 2 cents worth.