Trudi Montag is born to a mentally-disturbed woman and a loving father who fought in World War I. The mother immediately rejects her daughter, and continues to do so until Trudi is a toddler, when she suddenly decides to embrace and love her.
Trudi has dwarfism, and learns early that she is called a Zwerg , the German word for dwarf, by everyone in the village, and that most people are made uncomfortable by her physical difference. Her father is a librarian of his own pay library in their village of Burgdorf, running the library out of their home and charging patrons to borrow books.
Trudi is deeply resentful of her physical difference, but learns to use her uniqueness in a variety of ways to her advantage, mostly to discover the secrets of various villagers, but also to enact vengeance toward others. She discovers various gifts she has, from her own bravery in the face of mass evil to being able to see into people's hearts.
By the end of the story, Trudi reflects on the positive relationships she has had and the ways in which she has contributed to her own suffering and that of the others. The young girl soon realizes her impact over others by the end of this novel.