Inspired by ‘A Million Things’ by Emily Spurr

I’ll be blunt. A Million Things by Emily Spurr will break your heart. But know the following: even as you lie on your kitchen floor shattered and ugly crying into a dish towel after reading this remarkable book, you will be better for it. We all need a reminder that we aren’t alone, even if we are lonely. To know that animals are just like any other family member worthy of respect and care, that parents can hurt and leave us, and that judging neighbors harshly can prevent us from forming the most meaningful of relationships.

I waited for this to come out on Audible because I was hesitant to read it, and knew I’d stop picking it up if I had a hard copy. I knew it would hit too close to home. Mentally ill mom. Check. Becoming an adult when you aren’t even a teenager yet. Check. Being left alone way too young. Check. Having your closest family member be a pet. Check. Based on those similarities alone, I didn’t think I could get through this given the heavy subject matter. But I found it was actually good for me to read something that shows the complicated upbringing of a girl, because I haven’t seen much of that or felt any connection with a female protagonist in this way. And y’all know I read a lot. We have so many coming of age stories about boys (Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies). And if the story Is about a girl, it’s always about how her heart is broken over a boy, or she has an eating disorder, or how she’s in love with her middle aged teacher. This here is no YA book. This was more like Room, where the perspective of a vulnerable but resilient child going through very adult trauma tells their story. We need more books like this, about children with imperfect parents, and how they survive the unimaginable. Know that this is a hard read, but a good one. Content warnings include suicide, hoarding, and mental illness, and child and animal physical injury.

Big spoiler: I clearly loved the book so I feel like I need to explain my rating. The reason I gave this four stars instead of five was because of the graphic part involving the description of Splinter’s injuries at the end. It actually made me feel a bit sick. It didn’t add anything to the story and was overkill. I didn’t think the same was true for the way Rae must cover up the smell of her mother’s corpse, as that served a purpose in showing the reader how she was trying to maintain appearances and save the only home she’d ever known.

Rating: 4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast: 🎥 🍿

Rae: McKenna Grace

Lettie: Dianne Weist

Mom: Isla Fisher

Oscar: Iain Armitage

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

Donald With His Falcon

Well, damn. The true story of the Galvin family is as mind blowing as it is tragic. Quick note: I conduct Pre-Sentence investigations for the Court. Family of origin and mental health is always a big part to research for the report. These are serious crimes I cover, and at the end of the report there is an evaluative analysis that needs to be prepared so that my sentencing recommendation is supported. And it takes a meticulous review of records, all of them confidential, to complete each report. I’ve done thousands of reports. That said, Robert Kolker puts me to shame. An excellent writer and researcher, I’m not sure anyone else could have told the story about the family on Hidden Valley Road. Patience, attention to detail, and understanding from Kolker are evident. And a wealth of material that is so organized and presented so well, it helps keep the reader stay engaged (and not confused!).

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family is about midcentury American family living in Colorado Springs, CO made up of twelve children, six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia (notably, all boys). The family became an important sample for researchers investigating a genetic origin for schizophrenia. The family matriarch is, at first, reluctant to admit there is a problem but eventually has no choice but to acknowledge that she has more than just a kooky family. The patriarch is an overachieving provider, but fairly absent figure, in the lives of the children. Both parents, and eventually their oldest son, Donald, take a liking to working with birds of prey. I couldn’t help but note the irony that the parents of schizophrenic children were also falconers. Falconry is a breaking-in of sorts, a control over another, and a way to have someone with less power than you do what you want them to do and act how you want them to act. Not so for children with one of the most difficult disorders to manage and treat. While schizophrenia manifests differently for each patient, there is often the presence of anger, hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, paranoia, religious obsessions, and a difficulty coping with rejection. Worse, many don’t want to take their medications. A person who is accustomed to the cooperation of a falcon has a rude awakening when it comes to a child, especially a mentally ill one. Unlike a falcon, a person with schizophrenia has their own road to travel, and your plans for him or her don’t mean sh*t. Acceptance, without the enabling of abusive behavior, is the name of the game.

On a personal note, I’ll say schizophrenia can be very scary. And not only for the person afflicted, but to those around them. I’ve seen and been at the end of extremely unhinged and paranoid behavior from probationers. And the harassment can be relentless. They already distrust the government and are convinced there is a conspiracy against them. That said, there were many times throughout this book I said “been there”. And I’m sure it was for other readers as well. It makes you realize how pervasive the disease is, and the commonalities those afflicted have. I cannot imagine what it was like for the children in the family who didn’t have the disease. How terrifying some days must have been for them. And for those young patients that suffer, there are no words.

I think most people that pick up a book of this kind know what to expect but, just in case, be warned that there are a lot of triggering events within these pages. You name it, it happened in this family. Rape, molestation, homicide, suicide, animal cruelty, and more. And there is also some enabling from the matriarch that may anger you.

That said, this is quite a story of survival and a must-read.

Rating: 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️