Friday, July 3, 2020

Book Review - Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family; Robert Kolker

AUTHOR:  Robert Kolker
PUBLISHER:  Doubleday
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Colorado
Format: eGalley 
Rating - 3.5/5

Hidden Valley Road is a well-written, yet often upsetting, story about one family devastated by mental illness.

Mimi and Don Galvin were married in 1945 and had (12) children. The first (10) were boys and the last (2) were girls. The family, at least in the 50s and 60s seemed to be an all American family. Don a driven man,  military service and then a successful businessman. He was a womanizer and rarely home but, wife Mimi, held down the fort overseeing things on the home front. Things changed in the 1970s when (6) of the couple's boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. As the sons behavior and violence grew more out of control, they boys spent time in hospitals as their diagnosis was not well understood.  Their story became the subject of research by the National Institute of Health.

The author does a great job with research and interviews from medical professionals to family members. Everyone from Mimi to all of the adult siblings spoken often had different stories to report.  I was fascinated by the more technical aspects of this book regarding mental illness advances and breakthroughs.  I found it difficult to get through some of the details in which the young sisters were sexually abused by older brothers when they were as young as 5 years of age.  Some of the abuse was pretty specific.

I couldn't help from being a bit judgmental as I read. I didn't understand Mini's mindset. She had a husband who was rarely home, he was a womanizer and yet she bore (12) children with him. How do you fail to protect your other younger or more vulnerable children from the violent ones suffering from mental illness.  I definitely can't say that I'm happy I read this book. Not only was it upsetting at times it also felt repetitive as well.  Again, while the medical component was deep and informative, I would have preferred more editing and less detail about the harsh reality of the family dysfunction.


  1. That one doesn't sound like a lot of fun. No wonder that road was hidden.

  2. Tough to read about especially if the mother was aware of the abuse.

  3. This just sounds tragic and overwhelming! 12 children is a lot in the first place, but to have 6 be diagnosed with mental illness is so much. Throw in some sexual abuse and I think I'll have to give this one a miss.

  4. Interesting, but right now--maybe I don't need anything else depressing. The fact that the National Institute of Health got involved appeals to my analytical side, but the sexual abuse of children is a huge drawback for my own mental health.

  5. I understand your review. That sounds very hard to read about. My first husband was raised Catholic and his parents were good friends with a couple who had 9 children. They seemed to be a happy and well balanced family but I was appalled. Catholics were not permitted to use birth control back then. My first mother-in-law had 6 pregnancies but three were miscarriages. She seemed deeply sad about that. I think my ex may have been bipolar.

  6. I've seen this a few times but don't think it's a book for me.

  7. I agree, Diane, that this one was hard to read - especially without being at least a little judgmental. Continuing to have children long after it should have been obvious to both parents that there was a 50% chance of bringing another mentally ill child into the world was borderline criminal in my estimation.

  8. I borrowed this from the library, read the first couple of chapters, and decided to return it. Maybe I'll try again sometime, but there are just too many other books I'd rather read...

  9. I thought the mental illness had to do with her having 12 children. I can't help the sarcastic comment. She must have been a saint. I can't imagining having that many kids and then having 6 of them with serious mental health issues. This one is on my list though. I may select it for my book club.


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