Holden is expelled from his fourth boarding school where he believes everyone to be phonies. But before he goes home for Christmas and tells his family, he takes a few days to himself.
When spending time alone in the city, Holden starts to feel guilty over the death of his sister Allie, who passed from Leukemia. By trying to spend time alone and figure out his deeper problems, Holden ends up becoming lonelier
Holden go's to a bar where he ca't be served and ends up going back to his hotel and gets a prostitute named Sunny. Instead of having sex with Sunny he just wants to talk and enjoy her presence, but with little money Sunny's pimp comes back and punches Holden
Holden talks to Sally about how he wants to be the "catcher in the rye," the man who catcher the kids before they run off the cliff. This symbolizes how he wants to stop the kids and keep them youthful.
Holden and Phoebe go to the park and the zoo and he watches her as she goes around on the carousel. He finally says he's happy for the first time.
It jumps to a year later, the present, where Holden is in some kind of institution and he tells us that he is going back to school in September. He also realizes that he actually misses all the people he would call "phonies."