Review by Kelvin Odoobo
John Wheelwright, a Canadian citizen living in Toronto, tells the story of growing up in a small town in New Hampshire with a very unusual best friend, a tiny boy with a high voice named Owen Meany.
Owen is a boy with a strong personality with intellectual gifts, and an air of authority that enables him to take charge of a situation.
Owen also possesses a strong religious faith and an uncanny knowledge of future events in his life—including the exact time and circumstances of his own tragic but heroic death.
Owen is a tiny dwarf with weirdly luminous skin and an ethereally nasal voice. He has a tremendous crush on John's mother, who, in turn, is very fond of him. Owen's parents, in contrast, are undistinguished parents who run a struggling granite quarry.
Nonetheless, Owen assures John that God will help him discover the identity of his father. John has always believed that his mother will tell him one day, but this hope is dashed; one day at a Little League game, Owen, ordered to bat for John, hits a high foul ball that falls onto John's mother's head, breaking her neck and killing her.
John, brokenhearted, now splits his time between his grandmother's manor at 80 Front Street and his stepfather Dan Needham's apartment at Gravesend Academy.
When the boys are old enough, they enter Gravesend Academy, where Owen thrives: he has a powerful column called "THE VOICE" in the school paper,. Shortly before graduation, however, he is expelled for helping students make fake IDs out of their draft cards used for drafting conscripts into the Vietnam War.
Owen instead removes a statue of Mary Magdalene from its place in front of a local Catholic school, amputates its arms and head, and welds it to the stage in the Gravesend Academy auditorium.
The school minister, the doubt-plagued Rev. Louis Merrill, asks the boys at morning meeting to pray for Owen Meany, and the unpleasant headmaster who expelled Owen loses his job as a result of the event.
Owen manages to graduate from the public high school, and John and Owen are reunited at the University of New Hampshire, where John majors in English; Owen develops a relationship with John's hypersexual cousin Hester.
Later Owen begins working as a casualty-assistance officer, escorting the bodies of dead soldiers back to their families. One day, he calls John and asks him to meet for a few days in Phoenix, Arizona, where Owen is on assignment.
On the day that Owen believes he is destined to die. They see a group of nuns escorting a column of Vietnamese war orphans through the halls. One of the nuns asks Owen to take the boys to a men's room.
There, Dick Jarvits bursts in with a grenade. He hurls it at John, who tosses it to Owen; Owen leaps into the air, and John holds him up so that he can thrust the grenade into a high window alcove--a move exactly like The Shot.
The children are shielded from the blast, but Owen's arms are blown off, and he bleeds to death.
A Prayer for Owen Meany contains a large cast of idiosyncratic small-town characters and has many hilarious scenes and episodes. It also contains serious political and religious themes, exploring issues such as faith and doubt, predestination, the Vietnam War, and the wider issue of American foreign policy from the 1960s to the 1980s.