The Wave (novel)

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The Wave
The Wave (novel).jpg
AuthorTodd Strasser
CountryUnited States
GenreYoung adult novel
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback)
Pages143 pp.

The Wave is a 1981 young adult novel by Todd Strasser under the pen name Morton Rhue (though it has been reprinted under Todd Strasser's real name). 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 an 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 like 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, ordering them around in ways such as sitting in a specific way, and telling how to answer questions. 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, a symbol, a salute, and an organizational structure.

Laurie Saunders, a student in Mr. Ross's class early in the week, 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, as the football team had joined the Wave, 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.


Fitting in[edit]

Fitting in is an important a theme as any considering a movement is nothing without people; for without people to carry the movement forward it becomes nothing more. 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]

It is said 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 nothing 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".[1] 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. The Wave has many different themes but this is probably by far the most reasonable.


  • Laurie Saunders: 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. Because Laurie sees the Wave for what it is that she chooses to distance herself from it and all those who are involved which subsequently causes her to be 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 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". [2] 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". [2] 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's described as a young, good looking and charismatic new teacher, his excitement being 'contagious' so his students can't help but go along with him. He also has a hard time getting the entire class interested in the lessons, and also has trouble getting them to come in on time and hand in neat assignments. Devises The Wave to show what life in Nazi Germany was like, but he gets caught up in it as well. 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." [3]
  • Alex Cooper: Music reviewer for The Gordon Grapevine and friend to Carl Block. Is " stocky and dark. "[3]
  • Brad:A boy who enjoys tormenting Robert Billings[4]


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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Strasser 2005, p. 53.
  2. ^ a b Strasser 2005, p. 7.
  3. ^ a b Strasser 2005, p. 24.
  4. ^ The Wave Book

External links[edit]