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

Good Afternoon All,

It’s hump day and a special hump day as we only have three sleeps until Christmas! I have officially broken up from work and not back until the new year. I’m very much enjoying some lazy time and those very special moments of waking up naturally with no alarm. Hope that you’re all having a good week and enjoying the run up to Christmas.

Book πŸ“–

I have seen this book on my twitter timeline a few times and as soon as I knew it was a favourite of Barack Obama I knew I wanted to read it. Then by a stroke of luck, 100 copies were being given away by Netgalley. Thank you to @QuercusBooks and @bobkolker for this copy of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family in return for an honest review. Hidden Valley Road is available for you to purchase here.

Description πŸ”–

This is the story of an American family made up of Mimi and Don Galvin and their twelve children. The children were born between 1945 and 1965; spanning the baby boom era and all were encouraged to be wholesome, hard working, ambitious American citizens.

As the children grew up, the Galvin household descended into chaos with psychotic episode after psychotic episode and by the mid 1970s, six of the twelve children had been diagnosed schizophrenic. Though terrible and heartbreaking for the Galvin family, what they could offer the world was the perfect case for research to better understand mental health illness.

General Thoughts πŸ€”

What an absolutely fantastic book this is. It’s heart warming, heart breaking and educational all wrapped up in one cover. To begin with, twelve children gives me tremors just thinking about it. I can’t even imagine what managing a household with that many kids would be like. Throw into the mix mental illness in so many of the children and it really is unimaginable. However this book gave such a fantastic insight into what it would have been like from the perspective of the sick children, the well children and the parents.

Every chapter of this book was an education for me. I am vaguely aware of the various forms of treatment for mental illness and the concept of psychotherapy vs medication but reading about this through the true story of a unique family gave the subject context and really struck a chord with me. Being diagnosed in the era that the Galvin boys were, medication seemed to be their only treatment option. It devastated me to read that the same treatment that was supposed to help their sickness, only ended up making some of them sicker and ultimately causing their death.

Any illness is painstakingly difficult for a family, but dealing with an illness with so many unknowns and no clear treatment must feel crippling. I particularly enjoyed that this book didn’t just talk about the pain inflicted on the sick members of the family, but also on those children that were not sick. Mental illness truly does get it’s claws into all involved, not just those who are diagnosed. The fact that this family were able to let the world into their story and their hearts in order to further advance research into prediction, treatment and maybe even eradication of schizophrenia is so very special.

Writing Style ✍️

I sometimes find nonfiction books such as this one difficult to read as I can feel like I’m drowning in technical jargon, science and references. I loved the way that Robert Kolker had all of this, but it was provided to me; the reader, in context. Chapters that discussed research from as early as the 1800s through to current times was contextualised with what the Galvin family were going through and the treatment the Galvin boys were receiving. This brought it all to life and I personally found that I understood it so much more.

I’m sure that working with Robert Kolker to write this book was not easy for the Galvin family and I thought the book was written sympathetically without withholding any of the uncomfortable detail. To have the ability to tell the Galvin family’s story with compassion, ensuring that their legacy is documented for the world is truly remarkable and I have an awful lot of respect for this author for this.

Conclusion & Scoring πŸ…

It’s been a while since I have read such a thought provoking and heartrending story and I appreciated every single chapter, page and word in this book. Everyone; whether you have been touched by mental illness or not should read this book and appreciate how far the world has come as well as how far there is left to go. I’m grateful that this book and I crossed paths and I am certain that it will stick with me for a long time.


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