When Werner is 7, they close the orphanage. A lot of babies are adopted, a lot of kids go to live with relatives, the rest are sent to different orphanages.
He and his sister are adopted by Frau Elena. They don’t have much money, and the house is claimed by the state a few months after.
They leave. To Saint-Malo, France; to the old house where Frau Elena’s grandparents lived. It may not be much, but at least they aren’t living in the street, in the cold.
The house is rather small. Two rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a dining room. What’s big is the garden. A big, big garden where Frau Elena plants many vegetables. She sells them in the market, but when she can’t, they eat them.
They learn to speak French, but everybody can tell they’re German because of their names, still they make some friends. Frau Elena finds a job at the bakery, but she still sells her vegetables on Saturdays.
When he is almost 9, Werner finds a radio and at night with Jutta they find the professor. They both become interested in all the lessons they hear and they love the music.
Werner finds books of Mechanics and studies them, in the next years he starts designing machines and trying to make them as well. He repairs a radio, and then another and another. People give him cakes and money, and bread.
Life is going well, until the rumours start. Then Germany takes Austria, and the world “war” slips from everyone’s tongues. Frau Elena says it’s alright, if there’s even a war, the French and the British government will stop it in months. They’ll be alright.
But in 1940 Germany bombs Paris.
A lot of people come into town, some step by the house and Frau Elena makes the children sleep with her in her room. The guests take the other one and leave in the morning. Jutta hears the radio, every day, and she looks glad of not being German anymore. Werner thinks maybe they should tell the soldiers they are German, maybe that way they won’t hurt them.
Frau Elena thinks about it. Maybe if she says the children have German blood, they’ll send them back to Germany, keep them out of war; but she’s smarter than that. Werner is fourteen, which means they’ll sent him to fight for a country he doesn’t even care for, Jutta would be sent to some place to help the war, and she? Executed for stealing German children.
They won’t say anything, they can stay hidden. She can protect her kids.
Life keeps normal, but quieter. Madam Manec is a nice lady that often gives her one thing or the other to take home. She tells her that Etienne LeBlanc’s nephew and his daughter are now living with them. Tells her how the kid is a wonder.
She wishes visits weren’t so frightening for her. Jutta may use a friend, and probably Werner too.
Marie-Laure longs for her house. She wishes with all her heart to go back to her neighbourhood, to go out and walk, to read Jules Verne and touch the barnacles and the corals at the museum. She spends the days with her uncle Etienne, pretending to be explorers, at night she runs her fingers through little Saint-Malo.
Then her father leaves, and he doesn’t come back.
Werner is heartbroken when the radio is gone. But he keeps inventing things, he keeps creating.
“You’ll be a great inventor someday, my boy” Frau Elena tells him “You’ll see”
Jutta likes drawing, she sits in front of the window, and draws what she sees outside. One day, after she’s tired drawing houses, she asks her bother to take her to the beach, to draw the sea.
They are in the beach and Werner feels free again. Jutta is sitting on the sand, drawing the horizon. On his left, there’s a girl, smiling. She has auburn hair and a lot of freckles, she looks lonely, like she misses someone.
Werner knows about missing, he has missed people his whole life: his parents, the children at the orphanage, the children at the school in Zollverein, the house where he used to live, his country, his language, his friends at the school in Saint-Malo. Maybe she misses things like that too.
The next day Marie-Laure goes to the see, she hears a voice. The voice of a girl.
“Bonjour” says the voice
“Are you alone?” the voice asks her, it’s a girl, the person talking to her is a girl.
“No, Madame Manec brought me” she explains
“Your hair is really pretty” she says “My name is Jutta, what’s yours? “She asks
“I’m Marie-Laure” she smiles, and extends her hand “Nice to meet you, Jutta”
They stretch hands and a minute later Werner shows up. They introduce each other and sit by the shore, talking.
They meet every day after that, until they can’t.
Frau Elena helps the women with the messages, she helps propaganda expand, she helps Saint-Malo resist those damned Nazis. She refuses to call them Germans, those monsters made a name for themselves and that’s what they are. Her children are Germans, not those men, not those horrible persons.
Marie-Laure, Jutta and Werner find a way to spend time together. They both go to her home almost at night and they go back in the morning to their home. They don’t do it much, but the children long to see each other.
Werner has a nice narrating voice, so when they read books he’s the narrator. Jutta loves making the characters voices and that’s why she says all the dialogs. They play with whatever they found. Jutta and Werner play games to see who’ll make it faster to the house in the little model Marie-Laure has in her room. Etienne tells the kids stories, and teaches them about everything he can, they made volcanoes and chemical reactions and when Jutta and Werner come back home, they show Frau Elena.
Madame Manec dies, and Frau Elena goes to the house, to stay with them. Werner and Jutta try their best to comfort their new friend, but Marie-Laure is too sad.
The letters her dad send end up being three and she has memorized them all. Like a poem.
The resistance doesn’t stop, and now Uncle Etienne is helping. First are only numbers, then some announces to people, to whoever is listening.
Werner and Jutta stop visiting so often. Marie-Laure misses them and they miss her. Jutta can’t stop making fun of his brother saying he likes Marie-Laure, but he shushes her. One day he’s out, the Germans told him to repair a radio for them. When they ask for his age, he lies, he says he’ll be 16 soon, but the truth is that he’s about to turn 18. He won’t fight, not for them.
When he comes back home, her mother informs him and Jutta that Marie-Laure got lost.
“She never gets lost” says his sister “she knows the whole town by memory, she cannot get lost” Werner knows it’s true.
Marie-Laure holds the stone in her hand and puts it back on its place. It’s just a story, stories aren’t real, bad luck is bad luck. But deep down she feels like this stupid stone cost her the life of her dad.
The bombing starts, Jutta, Frau Elena and he hide, under the table there’s a hatch that leads to the cellar, where all the cans are almost gone, and they hide there. When it stops, Frau Elena and Jutta are telling him they need to leave, but he has to do something, he has to check on Marie-Laure.
He runs to her house and opens the door. “Marie-Laure” he says and prays, prays that she isn’t dead yet.
“Here” she tells him, she’s upstairs. They meet and he puts his arms around her, he’s about to tell her that they need to leave, when someone enters. Both of them go very still. And looking down the stairs, he catches the sight of a German soldier and a gun.
They run upstairs. She shows him the way to the closet, and then to the attic.
He always knew they had a machine to share all the messages with the world, but had never seen it until today. They had two cans of food and no water, they have a bucket where they pee, a knife, a brick and there’s a German armed soldier downstairs, looking for, Werner thinks, the radio.
They sleep in each other’s arms so they aren’t cold; they eat the can of beans. But they are so thirsty.
“Three’s water in my room” she says “If we could go down…”she thinks
“I’ll go down” he interrupts.
“No, I’ll take the water. I can’t stand guard because I can’t see, but you can” she says “I know the house like the palm of my hand, I’ll take the water and you’ll watch by the door, if you see him coming, throw him or something” he agrees.
They both execute her plan, and take some water and the book with her.
“I need my uncle to know that I’m okay” she says, and he’s fine with it. Maybe if Jutta and Frau Elena have a radio, and they hear Marie-Laure, they’ll know he’s okay too.
She reads and reads and on the fifth day, the book is over. He’s hungry, but not hungry enough to eat the can, not hungry enough to give up and die, and never see Frau Elena again, or his little sister, not hungry enough to lose all the classes Etienne promised him, not enough to die and never have the chance to go to a nice restaurant with Marie-Laure.
But they are tired and hungry and if they don’t get out now, a bomb is going to hit them and that’s it. He wants to see his family and he knows Marie-Laure wants to see hers.
She tells him what she’ll do. He takes the bucket full of urine and drops its content on the floor, the metal bucket in one hand and the brick in the other, she takes the knife, she turns on the music, “Claire de Lune” plays, and when it stops there’s a man talking about light.
And that’s the moment it hits him. Why Uncle Etienne’s voice sounded so familiar. The professor. The professor is talking in his ears and he’s about to kill a man.
When they go out of the closet, von Rumpel is in the hallway.
“Give me what I want” he says in German.
“What you want is upstairs” tells Werner in broken German
“She has what I want and I’ll have it” he runs to Marie-Laure, the gun still in his pocket. Werner hits him with a brick right in the face, and he falls backwards.
“Is he dead?” asks Marie-Laure
“I don’t know, let’s go now” they take his gun, and close the door of the room, they put furniture in front of it, if he wakes up, they won’t be in danger.
They go down to the cellar, hand in hand. When a bomb hits, Marie-Laure tightens their embrace, not because she’s afraid, but because he is.
When the hits stop, they go out. They walk fast, to get out quickly, but first they stop at some metal door.
“Why are we here?” He asks
“There’s something that I have and does not belong to me” She says, she opens the door with a key.
Once they’re inside he sees the water and the snails, and now he knows how Marie-Laure had a collections of marine stuff in her room.
She puts her hand inside of her pocket and throws a little house into the ocean. “Is it in the water?”
“Yes, it is” he says. Marie-Laure takes his hand again. They go out of the city, they find Jutta, and Uncle Etienne and Frau Elena. And for a moment they can breathe.
The war ends. And people start to come home. Daniel LeBlanc doesn’t.
Werner goes to study Mechanics in Paris, Etienne promises both children education, after all they did for his little niece. Marie-Laure will be a marine biologist and Jutta decides to study mathematics. Both siblings live with Etienne and Marie-Laure in Paris during the school year and they go back to Frau Elena when the clases end. Marie-Laure shows them her neighbourhood and the things her father made for her.
The war is gone, but they do not forget. Werner hates being locked, hates small doors and can’t smell cabbage soup without feeling the need to throw up. Marie-Laure panics with fireworks and doesn’t like people telling her they’re leaving without telling her where. Jutta despises silence.
The time passes. Sometimes they go with Marie-Laure to wait for her father, sometimes she shows them things in the Museum, in summer they go to visit Frau Elena, and show her around the town she barely get to know. Werner and Marie-Laure had one thousand dates, and Jutta calls her sister.
He proposes with a small house. A house he made coping the works Daniel LeBlanc did before. She cries and says yes.
Etienne cries with the news, Jutta jumps all around and tells Marie-Laure to think very well if she wants to marry him, they travel all the way to Saint-Malo to tell Frau Elena and she hugs them both.
It’s a nice day.