The Wave (novel)

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The Wave
Author Todd Strasser
Country United States
Language English
Genre Young adult novel
Publisher Dell
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 143 pp.
ISBN 0-440-99371-7

The Wave is a 1981 young adult novel by Todd Strasser under the pen name Morton Rhue (though modern copies are often under Todd Strasser's real name[1]). It is a novelization of a teleplay by Johnny Dawkins for the movie The Wave, a fictionalized account of the "Third Wave" teaching experiment by Ron Jones that took place in a Ellwood P. Cubberley High School history class in Palo Alto, California. The novel by Strasser won the 1981 Massachusetts Book Award for Children's/Young Adult literature.


The setting of the book is Gordon High School in Spring 1969. The plot revolves around a history teacher Mr. Ben Ross, his high school students, and an experiment he conducts in an attempt to teach them about how it may have been living in Third Reich Germany. Unsatisfied with his own inability to answer his students' earnest questions of how and why, Mr. Ross initiates the experiment (The Wave) in hopes that it answers the question of why the Germans allowed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to rise to power, acting in a manner inconsistent with their own pre-existing moral values.

Ross considers this and plans an experiment: the next day, he starts to indoctrinate the class using the slogan STRENGTH THROUGH DISCIPLINE. The class reacts well to this, embracing the sense of empowerment it gives them, and they continue their newly disciplined behavior into a second day of class, surprising Ross. He decides to take the experiment further and create a group, The Wave, adding two more slogans—STRENGTH THROUGH COMMUNITY and STRENGTH THROUGH ACTION—which leads to further rules of conduct and an organizational structure.

Laurie Saunders, a student in Mr. Ross's class, starts to think that The Wave is having too much of an impact. Laurie receives a letter for the school paper, of which she is editor in chief, detailing how members try to recruit others with bullying. That weekend, the football team is unable to win against Clarkstown, as their newfound drive does not compensate for a lack of proper training and planning. Laurie's boyfriend David is confused by this turn of events, while Laurie and her staff on The Grapevine plan a special issue of the paper devoted exclusively to The Wave and the negative impact it has had on the school. While some thank her, especially the teachers and the principal, others do not. David, who has been in The Wave since the beginning, tries to get her to stop bad-mouthing it. He eventually shoves her to the ground and this makes him realize how dangerous The Wave really is. Now united in the belief that The Wave must be stopped, Laurie and David go to the Ross home in order to convince Ben Ross to terminate the program. He tells them he will do exactly that, but that they must trust his moves the next day.

He calls a Wave meeting in the auditorium and requests that only Wave members be present. They gather in a similar fashion to the Nazi rallies, even equipped with banners and armbands emblazoned with the Wave. Ben tells The Wave members that they are only one in many schools across the nation that is involved in the Wave, and that they are about to see the leader of the whole organization and that he is going to speak to all of them on television to create a National Wave Party for Youths. Everyone is shocked when Mr. Ross projects the image of Adolf Hitler. He explains that there is no leader, and that there is no National Wave Party. If there were a leader, it would be the man on the projection screen. He explains how their obedience led them to act like Nazis. The shocked students drop all their Wave-branded trinkets and items, and slowly leave the room. As Ben turns to leave, the one person who really flourished in the Wave, Robert, is standing alone, upset that The Wave ended. During The Wave, he was finally accepted as an equal, no one picked on him, and he had friends, but his new-found social status is now worthless without The Wave. Mr. Ross tries to cheer him up by commenting on his tie and suit, and they walk out together to talk and grab "a bite to eat".



The Wave is bad to the point of obsession. It's a natural thing for some to lose themselves in their work, but Ben Ross takes this idea to the extreme through the various ways he gets involved in what he's studying. For instance when he studied American Indians, "For months he was so wrapped up in Indians that he forgot about the rest of his life, On weekends he'd visit Indian reservations or spend hours looking for old books in dusty libraries."[2] He even started bringing Indians home for dinner! And wearing deerskin moccasins". Another instance that shows Ben Ross' obsessive personality is when his wife, Christy taught him how to play bridge, not only did he become better than his wife, but he would also demand they play a game every night. It's for reasons like this that Ben Ross' personality is addictive to the point of obsessiveness, and it is for these reasons why when he gets involved in the Third Reich trouble would surely follow. And trouble was exactly what followed when Ben created the Wave, it started out as a simple enough classroom experiment, but soon evolved into a miniature version of the Third Reich.

Mob mentality[edit]

Many, if not all of the problems in this novel are because those who blindly follow others are willing to hurt, bully, and coerce other people into joining the crowd. The Wave started out peaceful enough when it was contained within Ben Ross' History class, but when the Wave spread outside the classroom and began to flood the halls of the school, various members took it upon themselves to bully other people into joining. Also the blind violence and hate that can pass over anyone's judgement comes into play with mob mentality because those that take part in the abuse do so because it gives them a sense of fitting in; this is also done to avoid punishment from others in the mob, just as the Nazis followed through with Hitler's "Final Plan" to the "Jewish Problem".

Fitting in[edit]

Bridging off mob mentality: fitting in is as important a theme as any considering a movement is nothing without people; for without people to carry the movement forward it becomes nothing more than an idea. The reason the Wave was met with such success is because it made people feel like they belonged, like they were becoming a part of something higher than themselves. Another important reason people were so eager to join the Wave was because many of their friends were doing it, and they didn't want to be left out of such a huge fad.

Power corruption[edit]

They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely, which appears to be the case for Ben Ross. Aside from overall student enthusiasm, one huge reason as to why the Wave lasted as long as it did was because Ben Ross felt like he was being respected for the first time. He loved how eager his students were to learn his material, but mostly he was in love with the power that came with their respect. And according to Ben, "it's amazing how much more they like you when you make decisions for them".[3] It is through the Wave that Ben is enlarging his own ego while crushing his students' individuality to make them function like a single unit.

History's repeating of itself[edit]

An old saying has it that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, and this seems to very well be the case for those involved in the Wave. The students don't understand why the Nazis did what they did and some of them downright disregard the events ever having happened. And those who are aware that these events actually did happen doubt the possibility of something as horrific as the Holocaust ever happening again, though little did the students know; the Wave was beginning to turn into a mini Third Reich.


  • Laurie Sanders: Main protagonist of the novel, straight A student and head of her high school newspaper, The Gordon Grapevine. Initially supports the Wave but as the novel progresses she begins to see it for what it really is, a mini revival of the Third Reich. It is because of the fact that Laurie sees the Wave for what it is that she chooses to distance herself from it and all those who are involved; subsequently being branded as an "enemy".
  • Amy Smith: Laurie's long time friend, in constant competition with Laurie, which puts a strain on their friendship; a strain which finally comes to a boil when the Wave is in full swing and Laurie is no longer "special."
  • Robert Billings: Class loser who is more often than not the butt of many jokes. Described as creepy and weird, "he was a heavy boy with shirttails perpetually hanging out and his hair always a mess". [4] Robert Billings's sloppy appearance and lack of interest towards his studies stems from the fact that he lives in the shadow of his older brother, Jeff Billings, who was the quintessential model student. It is through the Wave that Robert is able to step out of his brother's shadow and establish his own personality (even though the Wave is all about unity), hence why Robert is really the only one who actually stands to lose something after the downfall of the Wave.
  • David Collins Laurie's boyfriend, described as "a tall, good-looking boy who was a running back on the football team". [4] He winds up getting in too deep with the Wave and carries it out from the classroom and onto the football field in an attempt to unite their losing team.
  • Ben Ross: High school history teacher who tends to get engrossed in his work "to the point where he tended to forget that the rest of the world existed". Some of the many things in which Ben Ross would devote his attention to were: American Indians, bridge, and even the Third Reich. His personality is best described as obsessive to the point of insanity, mainly due to the incredible time and effort he puts into a particular field of interest. He also has a hard time getting the class interested in the lessons, and devises a project called the Wave to build unity amongst the classroom while also showing what life in Nazi Germany was like. Initially it is met with great success, but soon goes too far.
  • Carl Block: Investigative reporter for The Gordon Grapevine, he is a perpetually funny "tall, thin guy with blond hair." [5]
  • Alex Cooper: Music reviewer for The Gordon Grapevine and friend to Carl Block. Is " stocky and dark. "[5]


Strasser's novel won the 1981 Massachusetts Book Award for Children's/Young Adult Literature.

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