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

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book tells the story of a mental illness and its impact on a single family, while also attempting to follow the progress of medical science to deal with it. The illness is schizophrenia, and it impacts six of the twelve children of Don and Mimi Galvin of Colorado Springs.

Being of a similar age to many of the Galvin kids, with my own experience of mental illness in the family, I found that there were circumstances in the Galvin family that were familiar to me - the silence about the illness, the attempt by the parents to pretend it didn't exist at first, the stories of its impact that the healthy children don't learn about until much later in life.

But I've never experienced something like the profound impact schizophrenia had on the Galvins - with six children suffering from schizophrenia their family story has much sadness and suffering that go well beyond that of many families that are touched by mental illness. The New York Times called this book fascinating and upsetting, and it is both.

As to medical science, progress has been made in understanding some of the biological basis for schizophrenia (in part with the help of the Galvin family's participation in genetic testing). But today medical science is really in no better position to deal with schizophrenia than it was in the 1970s when its impacts were first felt by the Galvin boys.

I listened to the audiobook and found it held my attention so much that I zipped through it in just a day and a half.