BOOK REVIEW: If You Were There by Francisco Garcia

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4/5 stars

Despite his name, Francisco Garcia is a born-and-bred Londoner, but his name is also a reminder of the legacy he carries–his father, a Spanish national, vanished when Francisco was only seven, facing a troubled marriage, unemployment, and substance abuse issues. He likely travelled back to his native Spain, but he hasn’t been seen or heard from since. This dark chapter of his history has led Garcia to a fascination with the missing, but If You Were There goes beyond traditional true-crime fetishitisation of tragedy.

Garcia explores the various factors in UK society that can lead to the high number of people reported missing in the country every year, especially focusing on how austerity has slashed the funding of so many essential services: foster care, welfare, mental health care, etc that can all leave people vulnerable to go missing. Those claiming benefits or children in care can often be moved far away from their hometown, away from friends and family that can act as support systems, creating environments where it becomes so easy to fall through the cracks. Garcia also interviews a variety of charity workers and private investigators who work to assist those who go missing and their families–and often experience frustrating roadblocks from the government, police, or serious family issues that can prevent a positive reunion. This book changed the way I think about missing people–used to the headlines and endless documentaries about Madeleine McCann, this book examined more closely the troubled issue of missing adults, who may not necessarily see themselves as missing. They can have limited access to essential services, such as help for mental health struggles like schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. Sometimes, heartbreakingly, their family doesn’t really care about finding out where they are.

A somewhat frustrating aspect of this book is the fact that Garcia can’t quite decide if he wants to write about his own story or the story of others. There are a lot of long tangents about his personal life and his search for answers about his father, but then he follows a different lead of an interview subject. By the end, there are still a lot of questions–perhaps that’s the point–but I wish Garcia had focused a bit more. But if you are a true crime fan, this is a must-read examination of the human cost of a fascination with real-life mysteries.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Collins for the ARC.

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