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Bye-bye, Holden: when we first met our intrepid hero, he’s just been kicked out of his prep school, Pencey.
After saying an awkward goodbye to his former history teacher, Holden messes around with his dorm-mate, Ackley, and finds out that his roommate, Stradlater, has a date with his old friend, Jane Gallagher. This bothers him, so he spends more time with Ackley to avoid thinking about it.
He also writes an essay for Stradlater about his dead brother's baseball mitt, which has poems written on it in green ink. In fact, the mitt is just a catapult for a digression on Allie and the impact his death had on Holden, who broke all the windows in his garage in response.
When Stradlater returns, Holden gets in a fight with him for possibly-maybe hooking up with Holden’s childhood crush, Jane Gallagher. It ends badly for Holden.
Most things ends badly for Holden.
He decides to get out of Pencey and bum around New York for a few days. (It's Saturday, and he can't go home until Wednesday unless he wants his parents to know he's been kicked out.)
After an ambiguous encounter with an older woman on the train, Holden thinks about calling Jane, or his brother D.B., or his sister Phoebe, or any other acquaintances, and ends up … not calling anybody.
Holden tries to get a drink and get lucky, and fails. Repeatedly.
Eventually, Holden settles down to think (again) about Jane Gallagher. Turns out, she may have been sexually abused by her stepfather.
He ends up at Ernie's, a nightclub in Greenwich Village (where apparently you can drink at sixteen) and runs into an ex-girlfriend of his older brother, D.B.
She annoys him. Of course.
Back at the hotel, Maurice the elevator man offers to procure Holden a prostitute. He agrees—got to get in some practice in case he ever gets married, you know.
But when Sunny shows up in his room, Holden realizes he's not so much in the mood and he'd rather just talk.
Sunny’s not so much the great conversationalist, so she leave—but not before jacking up the price. Holden refuses.
Whaddya know: a little while later (after some depressing rumination about Allie), Maurice and Sunny show up looking for the extra five dollars. Maurice shoves Holden and, at being called a moron by a crying Holden, punches him in the stomach as well.
Once they leave, Holden imagines that Maurice has shot him in the gut.
As he tries to fall asleep, he says he'd jump out the window and commit suicide if he weren’t worried about everyone below looking at his gory body afterwards.
The next day, Holden makes a movie date with Sally Hayes, then donates ten dollars to two nuns and discusses Romeo and Juliet with one of them.
Holden decides to buy the Little Shirley Beans record for Phoebe; on the way to the store, he overhears (and perhaps mishears) the little boy singing "If a body catch a body coming through the rye."
After breakfast, Holden goes to the park to wait for Sally. While there, he runs into a little kid who knows Phoebe and says she might have gone to the museum with her class. He helps her tighten her skates.
Holden sees the movie with Sally, makes out with her, and tells her he loves her.
They go ice skating; he brings up the possibility that they could run away together, and yells at her when she's less than enthusiastic about it. They fight and Holden leaves.
Next up in failed encounters, he meets an older friend Carl Luce, gets pretty drunk, and then alienates Carl by only wanting to talk about sex.
Things go downhill rapidly. After some drunken wandering around, Holden sneaks into his home to see Phoebe.
Since Holden at this point has nowhere to sleep, he calls up Mr. Antolini, an old English teacher of his, and arranges to head over to his place.
Mr. Antolini lectures him about how school is cool before putting him to sleep on the couch—and then there’s a somewhat odd encounter where he wakes up to find Mr. Antolini sitting on the floor beside the couch, petting his hair.
Holden bolts and then walks around until morning basically having a psychotic break where he feels like every time he steps off of a curb he’s going to disappear.
His solution? He’ll hitchhike out west and live as a deaf-mute so he doesn't have to listen or talk to anybody.
But first he has to go say good-bye to Phoebe. He heads to her school to leave her a note, and gets really bummed out about all the vulgar graffiti.
Holden goes to the museum to kill some time. He explains all about mummies to two kids (brothers), passes out in the bathroom, and sees yet another "fuck you" sign.
At lunch, Phoebe shows up to meet Holden—with a suitcase. She wants to go with him. Holden says no, argue argue argue, and they finally decide to go to the zoo.
Phoebe rides the carousel twice. Holden stands there in the rain, watching her, incredibly happy.
And then … Holden goes home. The final chapter explains that he's in therapy and everybody keeps asking him what he thinks about all of this.
Holden says he wishes he had never started talking about all of this in the first place; once he started telling these stories, he began missing everybody.