Georgia, 1945. During a stop on a bus trip, Sammy Ayers (Frankie Muniz), a boy and his mother Helen (Bernadette Peters) ventures into a bar, while Sammy sleeps on the bus. Helen is murdered as the bus leaves. At the last bus stop in Georgia, Sammy is woken up and realizes that his mother has disappeared. He takes to heart her warning to "keep quiet". He is taken in by the bus station manager, Norm, and informally adopted by Lucille as the entire small town looks after him. While the townsfolk are wondering what to do about him, Sammy notices a young boy lighting a firecracker. Since everyone is startled by the noise of the firecracker except Sammy, it is assumed he can't hear. As Sammy grows to adulthood, he pretends to be deaf and mute as a self-protective device. Over a 20-year period, he hears many secrets and confidences. However, when he hears something harmful he decides to take action, to protect the townspeople who have become his family, revealing his secret.