The Wave is a 1981 young adult novel by Todd Strasser under the pen name Morton Rhue. 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 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 1969. The plot of the book 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 Nazi Germany. Unsatisfied with his own inability to answer his students' earnest questions of how and why, Mr Ross initiates the experiment in hopes that it answers the question of why the Germans allowed Adolf Hitler and the genocidal Nazi Party to rise to power, acting in a manner inconsistent with their own pre-existing moral values.
Ben starts by having his history class sit up straight and obey his commands by, at first, standing at attention beside their desks and having to say "Mr. Ross..." before asking or answering questions. After seeing the students' reactions toward the experiment, he decides to continue it the next day by creating a salute, a symbol and addressing three mottos he made up: "Strength through discipline, Strength through community, Strength through action." He calls this movement "The Wave". At first, students are skeptical about The Wave, but after seeing how everyone becomes equal, and that the stress of making choices is lifted, the class falls into The Wave, and begins to recruit others into it. Robert Billings, the class reject, seems to have changed the most due to The Wave - his physical appearance becomes neater and the students grow to accept him more. He becomes more outgoing and seems to be accepted in this new society.
Laurie, a student in Mr. Ross' class, starts to think that The Wave is having too much of an impact. A huge majority of the school is in The Wave, and its members attack students who refuse to join. Using her influence as the school newspaper editor, Laurie releases an entire issue of The Grapevine dedicated to showing the dangers of The Wave. While some thank her, especially the teachers and the principal, others do not. Laurie's boyfriend David, who has been in The Wave since the beginning, tries to get her to stop bad-mouthing The Wave. He eventually shoves her to the ground and this makes him realize how dangerous The Wave really is. After David realizes what he's done, he and Laurie go to Mr. Ross' house in order to convince him to terminate the program.
After talking with Laurie and David, as well as his wife, Christy, and the principal (who threatens to fire him if the Wave doesn't stop), Ross realizes that The Wave has taken a turn for the worse, and he is determined to stop it. However, he wants to do so in a way that communicates the lesson he intended to teach in the first place. 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 an 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, 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 grab "a bite to eat".