A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

Johnny Wheelwright lives in New Hampshire with his mom who “chose to have me and to never explain a word about me or to her mother or to her sister”.  Johnny never knew who his dad was, and his mother seemed to like it that way and went about with her tranquil and modest nature the rest of her days.

Johnny was rather scrawny and wimpy so it was only natural for him to find a friend in Owen Meany.  Owen was small for his age – freakishly small due to a mysterious growth disorder.  he also has damage to his larynx which leaves his voice very squeaky and needless to say, the blunt of many jokes.  But – Owen is wise beyond his years and knows more about life at the age of ten than most people do well into their later adult years.

When a tragic accident happens at a baseball game involving Owen… Owen feels this was foreseen by God, therefore – Owen is an instrument of God.  The book goes on to play on this “instrument of God” piece (even to the point that Owen predicts his date of death) throughout the childhood of both boys – and into adulthood as well as Johnny continues the story.




A little history.  Last year this book was recommended to me for banned book week.  AND in typical Sheila style, I ran to my library and checked this out along with several other banned books.  AND in typical Sheila style… I had more books than I could read. It was returned… unread.

There are books out there that continue to call to me, for whatever reason they stay on my radar as “must reads” and this book was one of them. I checked the book out again this year, now not only for Banned Book Week, but I had also chosen it as the Wordshaker fall opener read to force my hand.  (I sometimes, have to trick – myself.)

I had seen the movie Simon Birch long before I knew of a book called A Prayer For Owen Meany.  I enjoyed the movie, finding it funny, and sad, and a mixture in between.  The book left me feeling much of the same emotions. 

In the early pages you are hit with the shocking plot starter that really kicks off the story.  Owen then takes on this role as instrument of God which at times is funny, but admittedly – at times, a bit disturbing as well.  For me, reading this book as the fictional story it is, made it enjoyable, and in the end, although not always the easiest book to follow (flash back and forwards tend to mess me up), I am thankful I had the opportunity to read it.  

John Irving and I have had a rocky relationship.  He has a knack for creating quirky characters and then writing stories around them.  In the early years of our book club we had read (under my suggestion) The Fourth Hand by him.  Lets just say that I never have really ever lived down the choosing of this book that as a group we all disliked very VERY much.

John Irving, in my eyes, redeems himself in this interesting and profound read that would make an incredible book group discussion read.



FYI:  Did you know the movie Simon Birch is based loosely on this book?

Simon Birch is a 1998 American comedy-drama film loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It was directed and written for the screen by Mark Steven Johnson. The film stars Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, and Jim Carrey. It omitted much of the latter half of the novel and altered the ending. The movie does not share the book’s title at Irving’s request; he did not believe that this novel could successfully be made into a film. The name “Simon Birch” was suggested by him to replace that of Owen Meany. The main plot centers around 12-year old Joe Wenteworth and his best friend Simon Birch.


Why Was A Prayer For Owen Meany a Banned Book?

Banned and censored around the United States for its stance on religion and criticism of the US government regarding  the Vietnam War and Iran-Contra.



For those of you who joined me for the Wordshakers read a long of this book – as you are posting your reviews this week, please respond to one or two of these questions within your reviews.  When your review is up, please link here.

1.  What do you think of Johnny as the narrator of this read?  What is his motivation for writing this story?

2.  How does Owen develop as a character throughout the novel? 

3.  Why do you feel so such emphasis is put on Owen’s voice?

4.  Reverend Merrill always speaks of faith in tandem with doubt. Do you believe that one can exist without the other or that one strengthens the other?

5.  Owen Meany taught John that “Any good book is always in motion–from the general to the specific, from the particular to the whole and back again.” Do you think Irving followed his own recipe for a good book?

6.  Several reviews call A Prayer for Owen Meany “Dickensian,” and Irving himself incorporates scenes from Dickens in the story. In what ways does Irving’s writing remind you of Dickens? What other writers would you compare Irving to?

I will be answering my thoughts on these questions through commenting on your reviews.  Be sure to use the Wordshaker widget to connect your review as part of the Wordshaker Read-A-Long.

Link your Word Shaker read-a-long review here: (linky open through October 8)

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I borrowed this book from our local library

37 thoughts on “A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

  1. I have that same problem with the library, you feel like you should grab the books while they are there, but you can only read so many. I thoguth about joining you in this read, but I had too much on my plate. We own the book so I knew i could decide last minute and still do it. Sounds like it wil be a good discussion.

  2. I’m glad to got to finally read this. It is one of my all time favorite books. The only other Irving I’ve read is The Fourth Hand. I think if I’d have read that first I’d never have sought out any other Irving books. Now I figure every writer is allowed one miss, and so I’ll give him another try.

  3. I recently read A Prayer for Owen Meany. I liked it very much, but what prevented me from loving it were the many capitalized sentences. I found those distracting.

    1. Right, I was reading up on that today how there is a lot of background work surrounding Owen’s voice and the capitals were to emphasize his differences.

      I think after reading through the Chaos Walking series with all the font size, it did not bother me as much – but I was curious about it.

    2. Hello from the future, lol. Allow me to disagree with you there. Fortunately, I’ve read this book in English, and I have to say I absolutely love it, it’s among my ten or maybe even five all-time favorites. I say ‘fortunately’ because here in Brazil it got published with a big fat *SPOILER* right in the title translation (they changed the title to “The Son of God Goes to War”, can you believe that?) *END OF SPOILER* and they decided to print the capitalized paragraphs not in capitals, but in italics – probably just to cut the book length a few pages short and save on printing costs. That totally messed up the idea of Owen Meany as “The Voice”. As you know, he wrote everything in capital letters in the school newspaper, and that was the graphic representation of his strange voice.

      One of the things I like about John Irving, and which I think he takes from his obvious role model as a writer, Charles Dickens, is that everything in his writing is thought-out and intentional – even the characters’ names. That’s obvious in Dickens – has ever a name carried more the qualities of an obnoxious backstabbing weasel than Uriah Heep? Therefore, believe me, distracting or not, it’s better to leave Owen’s lines capitalizes, as they were intended to be.

  4. oh darn. my copy didn’t get picked up from the library yet. It’s been waiting since last Tuesday. Our library is open only M T Th and my husband picked up for me Monday and will again tomorrow but I probably can’t read and review by the end of the week.

    I’ve read several of Irving and really liked them. I like really eccentric characters and I like being surprised which gets harder as the years go by but Irving never fails to surprise me.

    I just watched Simon Birch. I’d had no idea that it was based on an Irving novel before reading you earlier post about it.

    1. I see n the World according to Garp forever ago but have never read – I dont think I would want to. On author alone, I would not have picked this book up because The Fourth Hand really annoyed me. 😀

  5. I’m pretty sure I have a copy of that Fourth Hand book somewhere on my shelf. I’ve heard it got mixed reviews, but everyone in your book club hating it is a pretty big condemnation. 🙂 I guess I won’t start with that one.

  6. I tried to read The World According to Garp years ago and couldn’t even finish it. Heck, I don’t think I even read half of it. Haven’t tried anything by Irving since.

    1. I dont think I could Barbara, the movie was so weird….. of course I seen it maybe when I was in my late teens… early 20’s so maybe I would appreciate it more now. All I remember is that I thought it was weird. 😀

  7. This is the only Irving I’ve read so far, but I really liked it (ages ago, in high school). I want to read his one from a couple years ago that’s set in Iowa.

    1. I think The Fourth Hand experience may have to go down as a Bookies never tell event…. now as a book reviewer, I am a bit embarrassed on how we handled this review (although…. it still makes me smile a bit to think of it). 😀

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