Cover Image: Girls and Their Monsters

Girls and Their Monsters

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Member Reviews

Thank You NetGalley for the free e-ARC.

I love the cover and its color. I fill it draws you in. The book is a hard read in the sense that it covers many traumatic events such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, incest, mental health, in a time when men and women have very set roles. It was also a time when they were just being to try and figure out mental health or the symptoms and some of the treatments were very barbaric. The girls were used as human pincushions and experiments. It's definitely not a fun a story to read, but very necessary to help us understand the past and what a travesty the whole family experiences and what would have happened if they had done something to protect the girls and the rest of the people instead of treating them to the most inhumane treatment. 

At times, I felt a little overwhelmed with all the medical terminology and was not exactly sure what it all meant. It was obvious the author spent many hours researching and trying to put it layman terms.
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I don’t like books with agenda, especially when I was expecting a book about mentally ill quadruplets. A certain amount of the history of mental health is always helpful, for those who aren’t familiar with the history of psychiatry/psychology. Even when I agree with the writer’s point of view of the agenda, I don’t prefer an unbiased view. I care about racism, sexism and antisemitism and while they historically have impacted diagnoses and treatment, the quads were white children, so repeated reminders of how racist the USA was/is didn’t factor into the the girls’/women’s history. If Audrey Clare Farley wanted to write a book about the history of race and mental health, I’d be interested. Don’t bait and switch me about quadruplets in the blurb.
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This was an interesting book with a fascinating premise….quadruplets, all diagnosed as schizophrenics. Was nature or nurture to blame? But it was *very* detailed and got bogged down. A little less minutiae would have made it a quicker read, but overall very interesting.
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This is a fascinating look at both the science of psychology and the conundrum of medical ethics. There is no doubt these children were treated as lab rats rather than humans. But what is there to learn from the data that was collected? What are delusions and are they hereditary? Even if they hadn’t been the subject of studies, could they have any chance at a “normal” life as famous quadruplets? Well-researched and presented with a steady hand.

View post at the link below.
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***** I have received and read an e - ARC from NetGalley in exchange for giving my honest feedback. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.*****

While it was a fast read, the author had a tendency to meander into differing subjects that while interesting and timely, had little to no impact on the sisters. The text could be a little dense at times for those who don’t read a lot of historical, scientific, or technical pieces.

Overall, it was an interesting book. More editing and cutting about 10% would have rounded this up to 3.5 or 4 stars.
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Before the Dionne quintuplets, there were the Morlok quadruplets. Also identical, Edna, Wilma, Sarah and Helen were born in Lansing, MI in May of 1930, almost exactly four years before the Dionnes, to Carl and Sadie Morlock, a working-class couple. Minor celebrities, they were taken “on tour” by their mother and appeared to outsiders to be a model family, but in their home environment, they were emotionally and, at times, physically abused by their controlling father, who refused to allow them to associate with anyone outside the family or to date as they grew older. By their early 20s, all four had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and research scientist David Rosenthal helped arrange for them to be studied by the newly-formed National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to examine the possibility of a genetic link to the disease. They spent the years 1955-58 there, and were intermittently interviewed and tested for decades afterward. Rosenthal wrote a book about them in 1963 called The Genain Quadruplets: A Study of Heredity and Environment in Schizophrenia, the pseudonym “Genain” coming from the Greek for “dire birth.” 

In Girls and Their Monsters, Audrey Clare Farley skillfully weaves the story of the sisters’ lives with the social history of the time, particularly the attitudes toward various groups (racial, socioeconomic, etc.) and changing ideas about psychology in general and schizophrenia in particular. The eugenics movement of the early 20th century forms a dark background to the concerns about a genetic basis for schizophrenia and apart from genetics, the beliefs of many about the responsibility of mothers for mental illness (the concept of the “schizophrenogenic” mother, for instance) inclined the researchers to minimize or ignore Carl’s abusive behavior and focus on Sadie, who whatever her flaws, did her best to protect her daughters, as a contributing factor. The increasing medicalization of mental illness as well as policies such as deinstitutionalization also affected the sisters’ lives and how they were viewed.

While some may find the emphasis on social history to be excessive or prefer the book to focus more exclusively on the subjects, I personally found the mix to be just right, illuminating many of the things that happened to the Morloks as well as the reasons why. Throughout, I also found Farley’s portrayal of all parties involved, from the family to the researchers, to be fair, even when they were admirable, or when, as with Carl Morlok, they were the opposite. She also received input from Sarah Morlok, sadly as of this writing the last surviving sister, who has written her own book about the family.

I received a copy of Girls and Their Monsters from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Drawing on publications, newspaper articles, personal papers, medical records and interviews, Audrey Clare Farley exposes the tragic lives of the Morlok sisters in the context of the era’s cultural and social milieu in Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America.

Girls and Their Monsters tells the story of the pseudonymous ‘Genain’ quadruplets, Edna, Sarah, Wilma, and Helen, born in 1930 in midwestern USA to working class couple, Sadie and Carl Morlok. Named by way of a public competition, housed for free by city officials, and displayed in the front window of their home for crowds eager to marvel at their identical features, the girls became local celebrities. As they grew, the quadruplets continued to attract public attention, becoming regulars on the talent show circuit, and the subject of numerous newspaper features and articles. 

Photographs show four blonde haired, blue eyed, demure little girls, and later teens, dressed alike, beaming for the camera, the picture of health and innocence, but behind closed doors, the girls were subject to horrifying abuse. Carl was a violent, misogynistic, drunkard who terrorised both his wife and the girls, while Sadie, unprepared for the challenges of mothering and desperate to maintain appearances, did little to protect them. Denied individualism and personal agency, Edna, Sarah, Wilma, and Helen, were treated as if living dolls, controlled, exploited and violated by both family and strangers alike.

Society by and large were complicit in their abuse, demanding a performance, ignoring the obvious signs of dysfunction, eager to blame any ills on anything except their own behaviour, all while maintaining an egregious double standard. Farley highlights how the socio-political norms of the time permitted the trauma, exploring the contributions of issues such as sexism, racism, political will, economics and religion.

By the time the sisters were 24, all four girls had been labeled as schizophrenic, and became subjects of study at the newly formed National Institute of Mental Health. Psychologists, like lead researcher David Rosenthal, were thrilled with the opportunity to prove a heredity link, but given the reality of the girls lives, it seems obvious the line between nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) in this case cannot be distinctly drawn. Farley examines the flaws in Rosenthal’s study, and, within the context of the history of mental health diagnosis, the field’s vulnerability to political and cultural influence.

I found the writing to be a little dense at times, particularly in the latter half, and the tone overall quite dry, but still I found the book to be fascinating as a whole. The story of Edna, Sarah, Wilma, and Helen Morlok is heartbreaking, and Farley makes some insightful connections between their experience and society that provide context I’d not really considered.
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i really enjoyed this book and definitely enjoyed it even more as i loved the book hidden valley road. my major flag is i took issue with where the more scientific/research parts of the book were located. i think the author could have done a better job of weaving that into the actual story.
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Wonderful look into mental health and treatment in a historical context. The book was a quick read and kept my interest. 

Thank you NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the opportunity to read an advance reading copy.
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I read this book so fast! It was so well written. It provides an interesting picture of mental health in the past. The quadruplets story serves as a foundation to connect to the field of psychology during that time.
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I have been on a nonfiction kick recently and the complexity of this case really stood out to me. The author captured my attention immediately and held that attention which can be difficult in books like this.
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Girls and Their Monsters by Audrey Clare Farley was an informative read. It specifically focused on how society and the cultural norms of 1930=19080s America affected the Morlok quadruplets—four girls who all developed schizophrenia. The author discusses whether this was a case of nurture or nature. 

The subject itself was interesting, and I enjoyed learning about these girls and the horrible situation they found themselves in. I did have problems connecting with the writing style here and there. I felt that there was a specific narrative that the author had decided on and alternate possibilities were not given much credence. For this reason, I give this book a solid 3.5/5 stars.
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Interesting, compelling, and at times difficult to read, Girls and Their Monsters does a great job of bringing readers into the lives of the Genain quadruplets, their upbringing and struggles with mental illness. Overall, I enjoyed the book including the information about the history of mental illness and mental health care. The book seems to be divided into two halves. The first half is a narrative regarding the life of the twins with most of the second half taking more of a scientific approach. I was drawn mostly to the first half of the book and the lives of the quadruplets. In the later half, some of the content was lost on me as my scientific knowledge of the brain and mental health is a bit limited. Regardless, I do think it was interesting and added to the book quite a bit. Farley also had a habit of going in a bit of a tangent regarding racism and even the satanic panic of the 1980's. While it had a place in the story, I think it distracted from the book by pulling the reader away from the quadruplets' story. Despite this, I enjoyed Farley's writing and the ability to engage the reader in this piece of nonfiction.
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Rather than being a traditional biography, this book is a social history of mental health in America with the Morlok sisters as its connecting thread. This approach definitely helped to contextualize their lives, as well as provided interesting insight into some of the stigmas still present in American society. Also, further proof that most terrible government decisions can be traced back to Ronald Reagan, lol.

This book did become confusing towards the second half, mostly because of my unfamiliarity with the study of the brain. The doctors hypothesized about the diagnosis of the Morlok sisters several times, and it would have been beneficial to know how or why these were ultimately incorrect. Overall, a super informative read, just more dense in science and psychology towards the end.
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This is such a sad sad story. The book itself had a good flow that made me want to keep reading. That being said, the subject matter was difficult at times to take in. And sometimes felt very academically geared. I felt like this is something I would have read as a case study in my college social work classes. In fact, I could see it being used for just that in the future. 

This is a good read for anyone looking to learn more about the history of mental illness and research. But come with your thinking cap on for sure.
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Real Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars

In the early 1930s, at the beginning of the Great Depression, a woman named Sadie gave birth to what was (in those days) a one in twenty billion genetic lottery: monozygotic (AKA “identical”) quadruplets that all managed to survive the birthing process. To the absolute shock and horror of her German husband, his Irish wife had given birth to four identical baby girls. 

None of their lives would ever be the same, and the Morlok Quadruplets would end up having a rough, abusive, traumatizing life exacerbated by all four of them developing schizophrenia before the age of 24. 

I requested this book for review because it’s kind of hard for me to stay away from books about the history of mental illnesses or mental health, and because the inherited factors of mental illness will never stop fascinating me. And who isn’t curious about quadruplets who all develop schizophrenia? I know I was curious!

This book suffers from being heavily unbalanced. I enjoyed the first half of the book a great deal, but the second half is very weighed down with tangents about the mob mentality behind so-called repressed memories in the 1980s that led to the Satanic Panic and a lot of dreary technical writing about the push and pull between psychology and psychiatry (AKA therapy or pills) in a world post-JFK and how psychopharmacology has largely come out the winner today because America follows the money and the money always leads to where the profit is. 

In the first half of the book, the captivating story of the quadruplets and their parents throughout their childhood and into young adulthood is heartbreaking and made me feel such compassion and sympathy for them. Yes, even abusive Carl and Sadie, because Carl was schizophrenic himself and was raised by an abusive mother and Sadie knew nothing of life but being a surrogate mother for her own mother since the age of two and couldn’t have known how to take care of four children all at once with no help from her useless husband. Talk about a nature versus nurture debate! I had hoped this book would delve more into what the quadruplets went through when they stayed at the NIMH facilities, but these sections stayed pretty general in tenor. 

So, while I didn’t completely enjoy the second half of the book (it did have some interesting sections, of course), I did really enjoy the first half. I just wish the book weren’t so uneven. But if you like medical history and biographies, then by all means pick up a copy. 

I was provided a copy of this title by NetGalley and the author. All thoughts, opinions, views, and ideas expressed herein are mine and mine alone. Thank you. 

File Under: Biography/History/Nonfiction
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This was an interesting and difficult story of the Morlok quadruplets, four girls born in the 30s who developed schizophrenia as young adults, the NIMH  research done on them under the moniker the "Genain quadruplets', and the ways that both those things intersect with the societal views on mental health throughout their lives.

Their lives were full of trauma, that the NIMH research largely disregarded in their pursuit to answer the nature vs. nurture debate when it came to schizophrenia. It's a sad story, but I think it's important to hear the full story of their lives.
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𝑭𝒓𝒐𝒎 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒂𝒚 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒚 𝒘𝒆𝒓𝒆 𝒃𝒐𝒓𝒏, 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑴𝒐𝒓𝒍𝒐𝒌 𝒒𝒖𝒂𝒅𝒓𝒖𝒑𝒍𝒆𝒕𝒔 𝒃𝒆𝒍𝒐𝒏𝒈𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒐𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒑𝒆𝒐𝒑𝒍𝒆.

In order of birth, identical quadruplets Edna, Sarah, Wilma and Helen were born in 1930 to Sadie and Carl Morlok but belonged to other people. Carl, their father, and mother Sadie were the puppeteers pulling the pretty little girls’ strings. The girls were under intense scrutiny, performing onstage and infantilized at home, kept from developing their own individual needs. They were a four-headed creature existing solely to be forced into the limelight, giving their parents fame and money. While I read about their stage life, I drew parallels between their experiences and those of young, famous stars of our own times. Abuses violations, and silent screams for help. It’s horrific how people can be watching intensely and miss the truth. If ever one wondered what sometimes causes mental disturbances, and breakdowns there is plenty to learn from these wounded women.

By the time the quadruplets were 24, the National Institute of Mental Health had the perfect subjects to study in the early days of schizophrenia research, as all four girls had been diagnosed with mental illness, proof it is hereditary. It is revealed with time that there were far more factors than anyone could imagine. Beneath their pristine facade, the family was hiding demons. Sadie spent a lot of time fearful of outside threats, like abduction, when the real monster was her own husband Carl and if we’re honest, Sadie herself. Carl’s drunken bouts, his hateful, disrespect of all women, his philandering and uselessness, his cruelty, his sexual deviance, Sadie’s depression, her cowering to her tyrannical husband and cold mother-in-law, her stage-mom behavior, obsessed with creating talented, cute little ladies, robbing her daughters of having any other emotions beyond joy, selling to America pasted on smiles. There is no way they could grow up well adjusted, not with every personal boundary crossed, gaslighted, manipulated, treated like sexless dolls and yet there were abhorrent sexual abuses. School should have been an escape from the impossible demands at home, but that was a failed experiment too.

This is a horror story, make no mistake. It is shocking what the Morlok sisters were put through, unthinkable. I found it disturbing enough that they were pushed to exist as plural instead of individuals, but that is nothing compared to all the other transgressions. What a mess their parents made of their lives and the medical community failed them just as terribly. Life was against them from the start, the times, being born the ‘weaker sex’, the freedom parents were allowed to do what they will to their disobedient children… what a nightmare. Carl and Sadie seemed to act as though they owned their daughters, as if they were only an extension of themselves, never to grow out of their reach and control. I couldn’t help but feel sick about Helen, the torment, the sick medical cures at a doctor’s urging, my God how could this be? What happened that the public didn’t know to these ‘icons of innocence’ is unconscionable. Carl’s abnormal focus on his daughter’s chastity and the many ways he sabotaged their development, their education too, just turns darker with every page. Anyone would break, picked apart, never taught to think for or trust themselves, fed a diet of fear. Sadie’s mothering is just as shameful, denying their blooming sexuality, allowing Carl’s filthy hands to go where they desired… I can close the book, but these brutalities happened. The Morlok sisters spent a lifetime violated, how much damage led to mental illness, how much of it truly was hereditary? Wasn’t illness a refuge from their vile reality?

What did the researchers get wrong and why? Society is guilty, that greedy, godlike eye and the way strangers made these talented, dancing little angels into something almost sacred. The misguided and often disgusting behavior of doctors whose personal hatreds furthered abuse. What did the sisters mysterious bond and happenstance of birth do to help or hinder their mental well being? There are many unknowns. I came away thinking, would Edna, Sarah, Wilma and Helen have suffered any mental illnesses had they not been in the limelight, or better yet never been raised by their parents? Science doesn’t always know best and isn’t infallible.

Hell of a read but it weighs like lead on the soul.

Publication Date: June 13, 2023

Grand Central Publishing
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From a childhood full of exploitation, the Morlock Quadruplets (pseudonymously known as the Genains) one by one developed schizophrenia. Hoping to prove a genetic origin of the disease, the NIMH studied them for years, but failed to fully take into account the trauma they suffered both within their family and from society at large, not to mention psychology and psychiatry's own many failings. A fascinating read. Definitely not for the faint of hearth, though, as it deals with numerous deeply troubling issues.
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In 1954, the National Institute of Mental Health learned of identical quadruplets, all with schizophrenia. This seemed a rare opportunity to research the hereditary source of the illness. But behind the idyllic public image of the Genain sisters lay a history of horrific abuse. This book explores their lives, and reveals how the nature vs. nurture debate regarding mental illness is more complex than it might appear.

This is a fascinating and often gut-wrenching read. It doesn't provide easy answers, but it asks many important and thought-provoking questions. Perhaps most importantly, it shows how silence and shame magnify the negative effects of abuse and mental illness.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.
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