The main character, 14 year old Maral Pegorian, is living with her family in Paris on the day that the Nazis march down the rue de Belleville.
The adults immediately set about gathering food and provisions, knowing that deprivation is inevitable. Throughout the story, there is a lack of supplies and a variety of nourishing food for families. Turnips become a mainstay of meals.
The Pegorian children (Maral and her brother Missak) and their close friend (Zaven) aim to find ways to resist their oppressors. Some ways are known to others, while others are more secretive.
Eventually, Zaven flees with his brother Barkev to avoid conscription. This puts a tremendous stress on the Zaven and Barkev's family as it does Maral's family since they are all so close to one another.
Zaven makes a brief reappearance and Maral and he privately "get married" and exchange red yarn rings. Although initially after that there are signs that Zaven and Barkev are well (but in hiding), eventually all indications that they are around cease which is even more anxiety-provoking.
After many months, Barkev returns - appearing gaunt and having the appearance of an old man. He shares what happened to Zaven and then gives Maral the yarn ring that Zaven had held onto and wanted returned to her.
Barkev and Maral end up marrying one another. Their life pales in comparison to others; and Barkev remains traumatized and depressed about the experience he and Zaven went through.
The story was an engaging and sobering looks into the effects of war - particularly WWII and the concentration camps - on families. Although the subject matter is intense, it is a part of world history that bears remembering.