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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

April 6, 2020
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On Sunday, NPR did an author interview with writer Robert Kolker, the bestselling author of Lost Girls, on his new book Hidden Valley Road. The interview itself is wonderful, but the contents of the book are so relevant to right now. It is so, so difficult to discuss mental illness. But as we're all pushed inside, with less connection to the outside world and each other, the discussion of mental illness seems more timely than ever. Hidden Valley Road is the heartwrenching and hopeful story of the 12 Galvin chldren-- 6 who would be diagnosed with schizophrenia during their life. Kolker writes about the impossible: nature vs. nurture, family, and the stigma that comes with mental health.Update: We first picked this because of the NPR interview, but it was just announced as the Oprah Pick for April! In May, she'll be on Apple TV interviewing the Galvin siblings.


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 disease.Don 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 1945, the youngest in 1965. In 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 mid-1970s, 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 award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.

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