Second novel from Sullivan (Stay, 2000), featuring an eponymous heroine who has an unusual physical condition that sets her apart in a small Massachusetts community.
Because of her abnormally powerful hearing, 13-year-old Ship must wear ear-caps to block the onslaught of sound that otherwise overwhelms her. Ship’s mother, Teresa, abandoned 11 years ago by her husband, supports her two daughters by baking pies for a local diner. Ship’s only friend is her neighbor Brian; the kids amuse themselves by taking advantage of her exceptional hearing to listen in on people’s dirty secrets. Brian’s own family secret is developed as a heavy-handed mystery comprised of unexplained Sunday outings, a mother who won’t leave the house, an overly hearty father, an accident Brian won’t discuss, and someone named Johnny mentioned occasionally by mistake. Meanwhile, older sister Helen, a tenth-grader, who is unrelentingly mean to Ship, has taken up with the stereotypical local rich boy Owen. Already sensing that Brian is also drawn to Helen, Ship is heartbroken when she witnesses her sister giving the boy a blow job at vicious Owen’s urging shortly before Christmas. After Christmas Brian disappears without warning, and his parents won’t tell Ship where he’s gone. As Easter approaches, Brian is still gone, and Helen is still mean (she’s been dumped by Owen). Walking in the woods, Ship finds an abandoned newborn and guesses it is Helen’s; she’s right, but the clues, like so much of the plot and character development here, feel contrived. Ship spends the next two days wandering around town, hiding from her family and trying to care for the increasingly hungry infant. Coincidently, Brian returns with his mentally damaged brother—you guessed it, someone named Johnny. After a moment of almost tragic violence, Brian’s family reconciles, Teresa (with Helen in tow) finds Ship, and the baby finally gets fed.
Despite some genuinely lovely bits of lyrical description, the usual roundup of quirky characters never comes to life within the manufactured plot.