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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

April 2020

Last fall, I heard Robert Kolker talk about HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD: Inside the Mind of an American Family, and I was completely caught up in its subject. This is the story of the Galvin family from Colorado Springs, Colorado. They have 12 children, 10 of them boys, and six of those boys have schizophrenia. I love narrative nonfiction when it is in the hands of a great storyteller, which is exactly what we have here. Kolker is skilled at giving us the opportunity to know not only the family, but also the science behind this mental illness.

The book opens with the story of Don and Mimi Galvin, the parents, who meet when they are teenagers. They marry and begin having children quickly, and for many years are a typical large American family. But then signs of fracturing emerge as one, and then another of the boys, start having what they later learn are schizophrenic episodes. Life becomes more violent around the house, and there is a sense that at any moment something new can erupt. Mimi continues to make lovely dinners and tries to perpetuate that all is well when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

We meet each of the 12 children in different chapters, and the way their stories are told is clear. This is very hard to do when managing so many people and complex storytelling, but I never felt lost. To the contrary, I was completely engaged.

There is another layer to the book as Kolker looks into the science behind schizophrenia. The Galvin family was studied more than once with a goal to find the pathways to understanding this disease --- information that is still applicable today. The fact that they had so many family members who were suffering made them ideal study subjects. But the science is not there gratuitously to show off what he learned in research. It always propels the story forward.

The Galvins fully cooperated with Kolker, and having their blessing made the book stronger. After years of hiding what was going on, they wanted to tell their story, in hopes that it will give others a chance to learn from what they now know.

There is a lot to discuss here. It was chosen to be Oprah’s latest book club selection; I can see many groups embracing it. I am so happy that I got the opportunity to interview Kolker. You can find the video of that interview here and the podcast here.

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

  • Publication Date: April 7, 2020
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, Science
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 038554376X
  • ISBN-13: 9780385543767