Okay. So in a lot of ways, Hugo isn't exactly homeless. He has a (train station) roof over his head and, with some creative theft, he manages to make due. But you have to admit, things aren't so shiny for our favorite kiddo at the start of the novel.He’s living in a train station, stealing to keep himself fed, not going to school, and not once in the entire book do we hear him mention taking a bath or showering (um, gross?). He's making due—not thriving.
But hey, he's got his automaton to fix, and that seems to be enough to be going on with. In fact, it's that automaton that launches the story into motion. Because when Hugo steals the mechanical mouse from the toy booth in the train station, it launches a chain of events that will change, well, everything.
Hugo’s not the only thief in the story though. When Hugo steals the mechanical mouse from the old man in the toy booth, the old man steals Hugo's notebook. An eye for an eye and all that jazz. Luckily, this encounter with the grumpy old guy leads to a new friendship with Isabelle, his goddaughter.
And when Hugo discovers that Isabelle’s key necklace (which she has stolen too—geez these kids!) unlocks the automaton, things start getting really interesting. The automaton draws a picture, and signs it "Georges Méliès," which is, of course, the old man's name. The plot thickens.
Once Hugo and Isabelle do some digging, they discover that their old pal Papa Georges is none other than the famous filmmaker Georges Méliès. On top of that, the film world thinks he’s dead. Things are getting crazy, right quick.
Because Papa Georges and Mama Jeanne seem pretty set on keeping their secret a secret, when Hugo discovers it, they're not too keen on the whole business. But when Papa Georges reconnects with his old work, he tells them the whole story—how he got into the film business, and how he fell out of it. Then he asks Hugo to go bring back the automaton to him—which he made. This is the moment of truth for everyone.
Poor Hugo can never catch a break. When he goes back to the train station to grab the automaton, he’s caught stealing a bottle of milk while eavesdropping on the shop owner—who is talking about how they recently found the body of his uncle in the river. When caught, he runs, runs, runs until the Station Inspector finally nabs him. He escapes and takes off running again, only to fall in the path of an oncoming train. Just in the nick of time, a hand grabs him and pulls him off the tracks. Papa Georges to the rescue. Phew.
In the end, Hugo doesn’t wind up in prison, and he doesn't wind up smushed on the train tracks, either. After Papa Georges saves the kiddo, he and Mama Jeanne take Hugo in. The book ends with the whole hodgepodge family going to an event held at the Film Academy for Papa Georges, who has now faced his past and added to his family.