Sarah is a 10-year-old Jewish girl, who was arrested on July 16, 1942, when the French police arrested 13,000 Jews throughout Paris. Being so young, innocent and not knowing what was going to happen, she locked her brother, Michel, in their secret hiding place. She thought she would be back in a few hours and promised Michel she would be back to free him. The girl and her family were sent to the Vel d’Hiv where people were held before being sent to Auschwitz where they were to be executed. Julia Jarmond is an American journalist living in France. She was given the task to write an article on the Vel D’Hiv Roundup for the magazine she writes for. She discovers more about Sarah then she thought she would and finds a link between Sarah and herself.
Sarah is more innocent in her thinking about the danger of her family’s situation. She believes that they are safe since it is the French police and not the German Nazis that are arresting them. She also has faith that her parents will be able to solve the problem. Unfortunately, Sarah quickly learns, that the police and her parents cannot be relied upon to protect her. Sarah takes it upon herself to keep her promise to her brother and free him from the closet. She shows bravery when she escapes and convinces the French policeman to allow her and her new friend Rachel to return to Paris. In her mind, Sarah is constantly thinking of her brother, not knowing of his death and believing that he is still safe and alive. When Sarah met the Dufaures, they had come to the conclusion that Rachel was sick with typhus or diphtheria. After Rachel was pronounced dead, Sarah and the Dufaures travelled to Paris to unlock Michel from the tiny cupboard. Unfortunately, Sarah took too long and was unable to save her brother in time. For the following years after Michels death, Sarah grows up to be a broken woman with a blanket of guilt draped over her. Sarah eventually dies from being involved in a car accident, which Julia believes to be suicide.
During Julia’s research, she discovered that her family would soon move into the apartment which had belonged to a Jewish family. This family was forcefully taken from their home and sent to concentration camps. Knowing this information had disturbed Julia but gave her a new aspiration. She wanted to personally tell the only survivor of the family, Sarah Starzynski, that she knows what she had gone through. She shared her desire with her husband, Bertrand, which he then scolded her for trying to bring up the past. Her relationship with Bertrand had been rough since they had discovered she was pregnant. “After three miscarriages”, he had given up and pushed her to get an abortion if they wanted to remain married. She finally decides that she is going to keep her child, publish her article about the Vel’ d’Hiv and find Sarah. During her hunt for Sarah, she had discovered that she had passed away and decided that she would tell her son, William Rainsferd, instead. Sarah had kept her childhood a secret from her family which stunned William when he learned the truth. Julia ended up divorcing her ex-husband, Bertrand, and she gave birth to a baby girl who she had named after Sarah Starzynski.
Both Sarah and Julia had their share of conflict in their lives, one being worse than the other. Sarah had to live her life dreading the knowledge of her brother dying because of an innocent mistake, and Julia filing a divorce after her husband gave her the option to either abort her fetus or divorce him.