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

This beautifully written true story opens with a scene of a young girl, Mary, who walks out into

the wooded backyard of her family home in Colorado with her older brother Donald and

playfully ties him to a tree. Mary found her brother’s odd behavior confusing, and she wanted a

moment of peace at home before he sought her out again to shower her with his fervent,

distorted devotion. Donald was the eldest of twelve children of the Galvin family, the first of six

boys to develop schizophrenia.

Violence eventually escalated in the home to the point where Mary’s mother Mimi sent Margaret, the only other daughter in the family, to live with friends while Mary, alone and furious, was left behind to watch her brothers pace, chatter, and fight. Meanwhile, her mother lived in a state of forced cheerfulness and her father, weakened from a stroke, struggled at the sidelines with his own health problems.

Mary, who eventually changed her name to Lindsay, spent her adult life processing the traumatic events that resulted from her family’s predilection for mental illness. She eventually did find the peace she never had as a child, a peace that came from slowly mending fractured family relations, working tirelessly to improve the lives of her surviving ill brothers, and by speaking publicly about her family trauma.

Her family was a case-study at the National Institute of Mental Health, where researchers had

ample data to examine the complex relationship between theories on nature versus nurture in

mental illness. What lives could Lindsay’s brothers have led, with access to early intervention?

Lindsay’s optimism about future medical advances provides a glimmer of hope for other

struggling families, in a poignant story written with clarity and compassion by award-winning

journalist Robert Kolker.

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