Book review: Hidden Valley Road

One of my goals over the break between semesters is to read as much as possible! I have made good on that progress so far, and one book in particular has given me a number of ideas for how to use it in teaching. The book is Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker. It is a non-fiction account of the Galvin family of Colorado. The Galvin family includes 12 children, ten sons and two daughters (who are children 11 and 12). Throughout their late adolescence and adulthood, 6 of the 10 brothers get a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

The brothers with schizophrenia spend significant time bouncing between state mental hospitals, community outpatient centers, jail, group homes, and their parents’ home on Hidden Valley Road. The brothers without schizophrenia have their own journeys (geographic, educational, spiritual) and all process their family stories a bit differently. The two sisters experience sexual abuse from one of the brothers, are isolated from each other as children, provide support for each other as young adults, and then grow apart again as they two process their family stories differently, and also as they realize that “healing” looks different for each of them.

In addition to the family narrative that spans 4 generations, the book provides a decades long look at the research that has gone into trying to understand the origin of schizophrenia as well as the mechanisms of trying to develop treatments and protocols in the context of both changing culture and healthcare systems.

Woven through both the narrative and the research is the age old question of the significance of “nature” (biology, genetics, etc) versus “nurture” (environment, parenting, culture, etc).

Feminism, patriarchy, family systems and secrets: they are all in this book. Risk, early childhood trauma, finding the right therapist and resilience: also in this book. Big pharma, the length of time that research can take, ethics and dilemmas in research what “informed consent” can really look like: here as well.

For social work educators: this book could be used in a research course, in a mental health class, in a individual or family practice class or in a HBSE class.

“Our relationships can destroy us, but they can change us, too, and restore us, and without us ever seeing it happen, they define us. We are human because the people around us make us human.” –Robert Kolker, in Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

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