The novel begins with Holden telling a story from Christmas last year. He has been kicked out of boarding school , the individuals surrounding him are fake, and he is looking for a couple of days before heading home to tell his parents about being expelled.
Holden grows increasingly restless. He expresses guilt over his brother's passing. He spends a couple of days in New York looking for a way to fit in, but ends up further alone.
After experiencing more difficulties Holden goes on a date where he states he wants to run away. He returns home to visit Phoebe, where he explains to heehaw he wants to be a "Catcher in the Rye." Meaning he wants to save children from losing their innocence.
Holden decides he is going to travel out West. He tells Phoebe to meet him at a museum. Phoebe meets him at the museum and tells him she wants to go wth him. He says no.
Phoebe and Holden go to a park. While Holden is watching Phoebe ride the carousel, he begins to cry.
The book finishes with Holden in the present. He is being evaluated at some medical institution. Holden is told he will go back to school. He realizes he misses the people he once called "phonies."