Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family – Z55z.co

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 diseaseDon 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 , the youngest inIn 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 mids, 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 awardwinning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope

10 thoughts on “Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

  1. Diane S ☔ Diane S ☔ says:

    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.

  2. Elyse Walters Elyse Walters says:

    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**

  3. Beverly Beverly says:

    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.

  4. JanB JanB says:

    “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.

  5. Tammy Tammy says:

    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.

  6. Olive Fellows (abookolive) Olive Fellows (abookolive) says:

    See my full review over on booktube: https://youtu.be/Y7qzkEtubH4

  7. Jessica Woodbury Jessica Woodbury says:

    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.

  8. Lolly K Dandeneau Lolly K Dandeneau says:

    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

  9. Tooter Tooter says:

    5 Stars!

  10. Holly Holly says:

    Imagine growing up in a family of 12 children, where six of them become afflicted by schizophrenia. This is the real-life story of the Galvin family. It's an interesting look at how the mother's desire to shield her 'sick' children from the sometimes more harmful than helpful treatments of the time, led to an even worse childhood for the children who were 'healthy'. Especially for the girls. Mixed in with this family's dynamics is insight into how new and better diagnoses and treatments were developed concurrently, some of which even used the genetic materials from this exceptional family.

    This book kind of reminded me of another book I loved, The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir - in so much as both books focus on the real-life experiences of people growing up in a very dysfunctional family home. So if you read that book and liked it, you might be interested in this one too. (And if you haven't read that book - go add it to your list!)

    Trigger warning: (view spoiler)[sexual abuse (hide spoiler)]