The book uses fictional documents to frame the story of Carrie White, a teenager from Chamberlain, Maine, when she caused one of the biggest disasters in world history.
For years, Carrie has been abused at home by her unstable Christian fundamentalist mother, Margaret. She does not fare much better at Ewen High School. Since first grade, everyone bullied her for her strange, religious ways, her outdated clothing and her unattractive appearance. So, at the beginning of the novel Carrie has her first period while showering after gym class. Carrie is terrified, having no concept of menstruation; her mother never spoke to her about it, and she has been a social outcast throughout high school.
The thought that this could be Carrie's first period never occurs to her classmates; instead of sympathizing with the frightened Carrie, they use it as an opportunity to make fun of her, throwing tampons and sanitary napkins at her. Gym teacher Rita Desjardin sees what is going on and immediately tries to help Carrie while the girls sneak away. At first Miss Desjardin is angry at Carrie for freaking out, but soon realizes that Carrie has no idea what is happening to her. While Miss Desjardin tries to explain menstruation to Carrie, a light bulb suddenly burns out. Miss Desjardin and Mr. Morton, the assistant principal, dismisses Carrie for the rest of the day. Before she leaves, Mr. Morton refers to Carrie as "Cassie." Angrily stating that that is not her name, Mr. Morton's ash tray unexpectedly falls off the desk.
Later that day, Carrie’s mother finds out about the incident in the showers. Thinking that Carrie got her period because she sinned, she beats Carrie, forces Carrie on her knees while frantically reciting verses and prayers, and locks Carrie in the closet for hours to pray.
Carrie gradually discovers that she has telekinetic powers. She tries to keep them under control, even though she is continually pressed to the limit. Meanwhile, Sue Snell, one of the girls who had earlier teased Carrie in the showers, feels bad for her participation in the incident. With the prom fast approaching, Sue sets Carrie up with her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, a baseball jock, but also an academic and a nice guy.
The following school day, Miss Desjardin punishes the girls involved with a week's detention in the school gym (a punishment made by the school board). However, Chris Hargensen, who helped instigate the episode in the showers, skips detention and she has been suspended for three days and banned from the prom (This was Miss Desjardin's original intended punishment, but would be enforced to those who skipped). As revenge, she and her boyfriend, Billy Nolan, a hardcore thug, hatch a plan to humiliate Carrie in front of the entire school. Chris has Billy fill two buckets with pig blood and rigs them over the stage on a rafter hidden out of sight.
On prom night Carrie is tormented by her mother begging for her not to leave the house. Carrie leaves anyway and arrives with Tommy. Carrie is nervous at first, but everyone begins treating her equally. Soon Carrie begins enjoying herself and Tommy begins to become attracted to her. Meanwhile, Sue continually worries about what's happening at the prom—and at the same time worries if she's pregnant.
Carrie and Tommy are voted for King and Queen and are rewarded. Once on stage Chris drenches Carrie and Tommy with the pig blood. Everyone begins pointing and laughing. A bucket knocks Tommy unconscious and Carrie runs out of the gym. She is tripped, gets back up, and rushes outside. Contemplating her life in solitary confinement she remembers her power and goes back to exact revenge on everyone who tormented her. She locks the doors and turns on the sprinkler system. But after viewing two kids die of electrocution, her mind finally snaps she decides to set fire to the gym. She leaves the prom-goers and chaperones to die in the fire, including Tommy. Miss Desjardin and a few other students manage to survive the destruction by fleeing through the fire escape. Carrie leaves the school and begins to destroy Chamberlain, blowing up a gas stations, and setting her entire neighborhood on fire. She also destroys the town's fire hydrants, preventing any attempt at putting out the fires. Notably, Carrie goes to a cathedral, where she prays, all the while manipulating a series of power lines outside, killing several civilians surveying the event. Sue rushes to the school and watches it explode which destroys a portion of the town.
Carrie makes her way home and confronts her mother, who has now gone completely mad, and tells Carrie of the night she was raped and conceived her before stabbing her in the shoulder with a carving knife. In retaliation, Carrie kills her mother by stopping her heart. Mortally wounded, Carrie then makes her way to the local roadhouse where her father got drunk and raped her mother the night she was conceived. Chris and Billy, who happened to be making love inside, receive word from Billy's friend of what has happened to Chamberlain, and Billy plans on leaving town with Chris. They exit the roadhouse just as Carrie arrives, and attempt to run her down with Billy's car, but Carrie telekinetically sends the car crashing into the roadhouse, killing Chris and Billy. Carrie then collapses in the parking lot from blood loss.
Sue then goes to the roadhouse where she finds Carrie in the parking lot. Carrie talks telepathically with Sue and blames her for the prank. However, after scanning Sue's brain, she finds out that Sue had no idea of the prank and that she had set her up with Tommy to apologize for the gym shower incident. Carrie does not forgive Sue, but believes her and then cries out for her mother before dying from the stab wound in Sue's arms. Terror-stricken, Sue runs away from the roadhouse and, after distancing herself from it, she collapses and has her period, meaning that she miscarried if pregnant.
A month later, Chamberlain is now basically a ghost town, and the 'Black Prom' incident has hit the nation harder than the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After interviewing the survivors of that night, science actually begins to take telekinesis seriously. Miss Desjardin, consumed with guilt over not being able to help Carrie, resigns from teaching. Sue writes a memoir of her experience entitled My Name is Susan Snell, which warns the reader not to forget about the events that took place in Chamberlain, lest something like it happen again. The book closes with a letter written by a woman in Tennessee, where it is implied her niece is developing telekinetic powers.
The story was adapted into a film in 1976, a musical in 1988, and was remade for television in 2002. Another film remake has been developed, starring Chloe Mortez of Kick Ass to star as Carrie. Julianna Moore is set to play Margaret. A tentative release date is set for October 18, 2013.