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

WOW! This book! Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family is written by Robert Kolker. While telling the story of the Glavin family, he also gives the history of how schizophrenia has been understood, or misunderstood, and the breakthroughs that have happened along the way.

The Galvin family's story seems too preposterous to be based on a real life family and yet, it's all too real. As Don and Mimi began their family they moved around, eventually bringing them to Colorado. Both Don and Mimi enjoyed falconry. As their family grew, eventually having 10 boys and 2 girls, Mimi is left to raise the children while Don is in the air force and not always home. Often times, the way of training the birds, became how Mimi also raised the children. Sometimes the birds had more freedom.

Having this many children is amazing itself. Mimi seemed to enjoy the notoriety having a large family brought, especially since her children were seen as perfect examples of how children should be, starting with the oldest Donald. Even when things weren't ok, they were dismissed as being the way all children are. Of course there would be fights. Or things were denied altogether because Mimi couldn't see that her star child would do anything considered inappropriate. It was easier for Mimi to pretend that there was nothing wrong and everything was ok.

Eventually, one by one, six of the boys are diagnosed with schizophrenia. The perfect life the Galvin family portrayed was anything but perfect. There was violence, sexual abuse, and psychological breakdowns. Life for the children who were not diagnosed was not easy either. Each one wondering if they would be next and all of them having to navigate around what was happening inside their family.

Add to the mix that there were different perceptions of what schizophrenia was. Scientists didn't know if it was environmental, genetic, bacterial, neurological, genetic, biochemical or viral. The thoughts on how it should be treated was also diverse. Some of the treatments are bizarre and cruel. Some psychiatrists leaned towards nurture calling mothers like Mimi schizophrenogenic. Others leaned towards nature and it would be a long time before the idea that it could be a mix of both would catch on.

Kolker has written a well researched book that gives an account of one family's journey through mental illness and what they did and didn't do to get answers and survive. My heart broke for these children and I wonder if we've really come any closer to some of the answers the Galvin family were in desperate need of.

I like how Kolker weaved together the family story and the scientific aspect of schizophrenia. It was also super helpful to have the list of the family members at the beginning of each chapter to keep everyone organized in my head and to know who the chapter was focusing on.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about mental illness.

Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛🐛

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Canada for the free digital copy for an honest review.

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