33 Snowfish is a sad, sick, powerful story about three runaways and their desperate attempt to flee from the ugliness they've always known. These kids are both awful and sympathetic. Custis narrates most of the story. He’s a prepubescent boy who never quite reveals how old he is, answering “old enough” when asked by the various strangers he encounters as a homeless youth. Custis never mentions his parents or any permanent caregivers. Custis has recently fled a pedophile who, in exchange for “owning” him, had been letting him sleep on the floor in a room that smells like dog. During his escape, Custis befriends two other runaways—Boobie, a 17-year-old who has just murdered his parents, and Boobie’s girlfriend Curl, a crack-addicted teenage prostitute.
When the novel begins, Custis, Boobie, and Curl are driving down the highway, watching out for “pigs.” Curl makes twenty bucks here and there turning tricks, but it’s not enough for the three of them to survive, especially since Curl smokes away much of her earnings. They try to scope out buyers for Boobie’s unnamed baby brother, who sleeps in a busted out TV in the back of the car, but when that idea doesn’t pan out, the four of them end up stuck in a snowstorm, sleeping inside an abandoned van in the woods.
This story is rife with raw emotions, ranging from catch-you-off-guard hilarious to heartbreaking. I had trouble putting this fast-paced book down, even though I couldn't decide if I wanted to slap the characters or hold them in my lap, singing sweetly. This book is not a good choice for readers who are bothered by the darker side of life, but it’s a remarkable literary achievement for those who are strong enough to read through until the astonishingly hopeful ending.