John Wheelwright is an English teacher at a prestigious all-girls school in 1987. The novel, and the life of Owen Meany, take place in John's memory. John begins by returning to his early childhood in the town of Gravesend, New Hampshire. He describes his wealthy and esteemed lineage, including his mother Tabitha and grandmother, Harriet. He also introduces his closest childhood friend, Owen Meany. Noticeably smaller than all the other children, Meany also had a high-pitched voice and nearly translucent skin. Unlike John, he comes from a poor working-class family
John and Owen become inseperable and they spend many days at John's grandmother's house on Front Street. Although John does not know who his real father is, his mother becomes involved with Dan Needham, a teacher at the boy's school. John is incredibly stress not knowing who his father is. Nonetheless, Dan is a very positive, paternal influence who intends to guide the boys into young adulthood. Meany, who has a considerable crush on John's mother, is jealous but grows to like Dan. John's mother also displays an affinity for Meany and welcomes him into her home and her family. Realizing Meany's astounding intelligence, Tabitha petitions his parents to allow him to attend Gravesend Academy, the prestigious private school.
The boys are baseball fanatics in elementary school, collecting cards and listening to games on the radio. One day at a little league game, Meany, who due to his stature is a very poor player, finally hits a ball. It is a foul ball and it hits John's mother in the head, killing her instantly. Still, the two boys remain friends. John lived both with his grandmother and Dan after the event. The following Christmas, the pastor at the local Episcopalian church, Dudley Wiggins intends to put on a large staging of the Nativity scene. Due to Meany's size, he is chosen to play baby Jesus in the manger. This, among many other points, affirms Meany's role as a Christ-like character.
Meany comes to see himself as a tool of God, or as he says "God's instrument," destined to do something incredibly important with his life. Although John is initially skeptical, he comes to see a divine force within Meany. As he begins to have premonitions about the future, he implores John to assist with him with a basketball trick. Called "the shot," John would lift Meany above his head to perform a slam-dunk. Meany is insistent they continue to practice, and the move will become incredibly important later in the novel.
Meany stays back a grade so him and John, who was held back, can graduate together. During secondary school, Meany builds a reputation as an incredibly outspoken and quick-witted. Much to John's dismay, Meany also beings dating his cousin Hester. Meany allows writes a column called THE VOICE in the school newspaper, another religious allusion. In senior year of high school, Meany is expelled for helping students tamper with their Vietnam Draft cards. Unable to attend any of the universities of his choice, he is forced to enlist in the Army. Meanwhile, John attends university to get an English Degree.
As the Vietnam war rages on, Meany is posted in Arizona. His task is to process bodies as they return home from the conflict. One day, Meany calls John and tells him to come visit. John meets Meany at the airport, where Meany is tasked with ushering the families of deceased soldiers. John notices that the brother of a deceased soldier, Dick Jarvits, is acting suspiciously. When Meany is asked to lead a group of Vietnamese refugees to the restroom, Jarvits and John follow. Jarvits throws a grenade, intending to kill the Vietnamese children. John and Meany perform "the shot" that they had practiced so long before and throw the grenade out the window. It explodes prematurely and Meany bleeds to death.
As Meany foresaw, he died saving the lives of children, though only John realizes the true depth of the miracle. Furthermore, when John returns home to New Hampshire, he speaks to Meany's mother who reveals that Owen was a virgin birth. John is in disbelief, though finally comes to terms with Meany's divinity. As the novel concludes, John discovers that his father was a local minister named Louis Merrill. Merrill often advised Meany in spiritual matters, though Merrill admits that he prayed for John's mother to died before Meany accidentally killed her. John's sense of conclusion remains muddled, but he feels blessed to have known Owen Meany.