I picked up The Wave by Todd Strasser as a reading assignment from the coordinators of the Loudoun County 1Book1Community, of which I am a committee member. I have never read this book, seen it in a library shelf, or heard about the real-life situation that led to the writing of this novel. Published in 1981 (the language and interpersonal relationships are appropriate to the genre), The Wave is the fictional account of the real-life classroom experiment at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California in 1967…an experiment that went further than expected.
A history teacher, in an attempt to help his students understand how easily the Nazis and Germans could fall under the spell of the group-mentality (killing innocent people at the direction of a superior officer; turning on friends and neighbors suspected of harboring Jews; foregoing personal values for those of the group, etc…), the teacher started The Wave, requiring students to salute, recruit other students, fulfill the mission of The Wave, and more. In the novel, members of The Wave beat up, threatened, and turned their backs on their peers who would not join. The teacher knows he should end the experiment, but even he is getting caught up in the power that his role as leader has given him.
The book is a quick read, and an important one for those interested in understanding how fear and peer pressure can create very dangerous situations. I would definitely recommend this to any teen who enjoys WWII literature. Even though it is not from that era, it directly discusses the mentality of one of history’s most violent and fascinating groups.
In 2008 The Wave was made into a movie…in Germany. I just put myself on hold for it here at my library, and I have heard that it is quite grim.