Bruno feels bad when he finds out one evening after school that they have to move from Berlin. When he makes inquiries, he is told that it is because of his father’s job. The house in the new location is not satisfactory in Bruno’s view because it is small and the compound is not presentable. Gretel, his 12-year old sister, agrees with him.
Bruno and her sister see people across the fence wearing striped pajamas. However, his father does not offer any substantive answer when Bruno asks who those people are. Days go by, and they still do not return to Berlin.
While exploring the fence one day, Bruno identifies another boy of his age on the other side. The boy is called Shmuel. He tells Bruno how they ended up in the camp and goes on to inform him that there are other children also in there.
Shmuel and Bruno begin meeting frequently. However, Bruno wants to keep the friendship secret. Bruno is surprised when at one point, he comes home to find Shmuel polishing glasses in Bruno’s parents’ home. Seeing that Shmuel might be hungry, Bruno shares chicken with him. Lieutenant Kotler accuses Shmuel of stealing the chicken. Given that Bruno does not want their friendship to be known, he refuses to say he gave Shmuel the chicken. Shmuel forgives Bruno later, and they continue being friends.
Bruno later sneaks to the other side reserved for the Jews to help Shmuel find his father. Bruno disappears, and the family does not find him. He dresses like those on the other side and blends. Bruno’s mother returns to Berlin without him. Later Bruno’s father realizes what happened to him and goes back to the camp to look for him. John Boyne does not tell the readers what happened next.