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Hidden Valley Road Reader’s Guide

By Robert Kolker

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

READERS GUIDE

Introduction

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.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. In Hidden Valley Road, each of the Galvin boys who are diagnosed with schizophrenia show different symptoms. How does schizophrenia present differently in each of the Galvin boys?

2. How does the Galvin family adapt when the boys develop schizophrenia? Do any of the family members handle it better or worse than others?

3. At the time when the Galvin boys are being diagnosed with schizophrenia, studies in mental illness claim the parents are responsible. How do you think this affected how Don and Mimi handled the changes happening in their family?

4. How did growing up on an air force base positively or negatively affect the Galvin family?

5. How did this book change your perception of mental illness?

6. Discuss how the youngest Galvins, Lindsay and Margaret, both came to terms with their family’s struggle with schizophrenia in different ways.

7. Did your feelings change about any of the characters during the course of reading?

8. What was your impression of Mimi at the beginning of the book? Did it change by the end?

9. Tragedies have the power to shape families to bring them closer or pull them apart. How is the Galvin family shaped by their own tragedies?

10. As the Galvin children begin having children of their own, how does their upbringing on Hidden Valley Road affect how they raise their own children?

About this Author

ROBERT KOLKER is the New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls, named one of the New York Times‘s 100 Notable Books and one of Publishers Weekly‘s Top Ten Books of 2013. As a journalist, his work has appeared in New York magazine, Bloomberg BusinessweekThe New York Times MagazineWired, GQ, O Magazine, and Men’s Journal. He is a National Magazine Award finalist and a recipient of the 2011 Harry Frank Guggenheim Award for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
 
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