Praise for Hidden Valley Road

Susan Doherty, author of The Ghost Garden

“Meticulously researched, Hidden Valley Road is poignant to the point of heartbreak. Robert Kolker’s insightful story of a dozen siblings, half of whom were diagnosed with psychotic disorders, reinforces the idea that when nature is activated by traumatic nurture, schizophrenia takes hold. A devastating but essential read.”

Rachel Simon, author of Riding the Bus with My Sister

“A sweeping yet profoundly intimate story of one family’s breathtaking challenges with schizophrenia and humanity’s long history of misbegotten efforts to make sense of, and treat, the condition. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this masterfully researched and utterly engrossing book shines a light on individuals who were foundational to medical study—and subjected to questionable ethics. Your heart will break, your sympathies will swell, and the Galvins will stay with you forever.”

Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times

“Robert Kolker’s engrossing new nonfiction book, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, tells the Galvins’ story. Kolker, a journalist and the author of the bestselling true crime book Lost Girls, shows readers the personal side of a family’s almost unimaginable struggle with multiple cases of mental illness, and he also writes a history of how such illnesses have been treated that is by turns heartbreaking, enraging and hopeful.”

‘Hidden Valley Road’ is an engrossing story of a family’s struggles,” May 8, 2020

Victoria Segal, The Sunday Times (UK)

“Kolker, careful and compassionate, hasn’t turned Hidden Valley Road into a pure horror story, but by revealing the Galvins’ remarkable circumstances, he shows just how delicately balanced a family, a mind — a whole life — can be.”

Andrew Scull, The Spectator (UK)

“Robert Kolker’s fine book, Hidden Valley Road, is a moving dissection of what it means for a family to live with the depredations of schizophrenia…. The family history Kolker provides is remarkable for its depth and for the sympathetic portrayal of a large cast of characters, each of whom is sketched with great skill…. Kolker’s reconstruction of this nightmarish perversion of suburban family life is extraordinarily well done.” 

Apple Books – Best Books of April 2020

Journalist Robert Kolker draws us into the jaw-dropping true story of the Galvin family—Mimi, Don, and their 12 children—to explore powerful themes like mental illness, our limited understanding of the human brain, trauma, resilience, and forgiveness His astonishing book follows the Galvins from the late 1940s, when Don and Mimi are a young all-American couple with seemingly infinite promise, through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, as six of their ten sons are eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, to the present, as the remaining family members come to terms with the shame, denial, secretiveness, and chaos caused by the stigma around this horrific disease of the brain. Kolker’s first book, Lost Girls, fell squarely into the true-crime camp, and his ability to build suspense and ferret out hidden truths is a large part of the reason that Hidden Valley Road is such a page-turning read, despite the seriousness and complexity of the subject matter. We can honestly say this is one of the most gripping, fascinating, and moving portraits of a family that we have ever read. It filled us with compassion and a sense of urgency about talking about mental illness openly and honestly.

Amazon’s Best Books of April 2020

Early in Hidden Valley Road, Robert Kolker observes that, “For a family, schizophrenia is, primarily, a felt experience, as if the foundation of the family is permanently tilted in the direction of the sick family member.” There is no greater testament to the truth of that observation than Don and Mimi Galvin’s twelve children: six of their sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia, starting with their eldest son who was diagnosed in his late teens, by which time five of his brothers were also breaking down. With six family members mentally ill with a disease about which medical opinion shifted every few years, the foundation of the Galvin family didn’t so much tilt as tip over. Kolker does an outstanding job of reportage on all fronts: the chronology of the Galvin boys’ breakdowns, the effects on their parents, and critically, on the siblings who did not become mentally ill, growing up in a household utterly defined, internally and externally, by the mental illness that rampaged through the family. Kolker also deftly weaves the history of diagnosing and treating schizophrenia into the narrative; it’s cold comfort that the Galvin family became “a monumental case study in humanity’s most perplexing disease.” Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road takes an astonishing, heartrending story and elevates it with empathy and superb storytelling. 

—Vannessa Cronin, Amazon Book Review