Historical Fiction

The Wave

Author:  Todd Strasser

Published By: Laurel-Leaf Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                My dentist is really cool – no, really, I’ve known her for years.  We’re very close in age and we enjoy a lot of the same movies and books.  So when she told me I just had to read Todd Strasser’s The Wave, I listened.  She had never steered me wrong before, I had no doubt that this book would be great. 

                Written in the early 1980s, The Wave is based upon an experiment that took place in 1969 in Palo Alto, California.  A history teacher attempting to teach his students about World War II and the rise of Hitler reached a stumbling block.  His students couldn’t understand how anyone could allow the atrocities that took place…how no one spoke up or raged against it.  And he had no answers…he couldn’t explain it, but he could conduct an experiment that would help them all understand it.

                The book is a bit of a dramatization of the event, using different names and adding a little more drama to the story.  History teacher Ben Ross decides that he will show his students what it is like to ride a wave of a popular notion in which a sense of unity can often overpower sensibility.  He invents a state of mind, a group called The Wave in which all of his students are respected members…all are equal…and they look to Mr. Ross as their leader. 

                At first, the idea of The Wave is terrific.  Students who were considered weird belonged.  Underachievers performed better in class.  Students united and aided one another in their goals.  The Wave began to grow, drawing in others interested in becoming members…in becoming.  And then, things took a turn for the worse.  People who were afraid of The Wave, who didn’t want to join, who had no use for the movement…these people were not wanted, not needed and were bullied by members of The Wave, excluded from events, downright ridiculed and even beaten.

                It all began getting out of hand, and that’s when Mr. Ross revealed what The Wave had become – a new version of the Nazi movement.  The students now knew how people could allow the Nazis to perform atrocities on Jews and many others, because some were afraid to fight it…some were ashamed of it and turned their backs on it…some were already complicit in it and felt there was no turning back…and still others were so caught up in the wave of the moment that they couldn’t see the horrors of what they had done.

                At just under a hundred and forty pages, The Wave is quite an intriguing read.  Todd Strasser does a terrific job dramatizing the actual 1969 experiment, making the outrageous and the hideous understandable for those who didn’t live through it.  Who wouldn’t read or watch videos about the death camps and the other Nazi atrocities and not ask why or how?  And then you read this book and you realize how possible it is, even now.  You see that history can easily repeat itself if the world is not careful. 

                The Wave is a fast, interesting read that offers up a chilling message.  So glad I listened to my dentist and read Todd Strasser’s book.  It may have been written a number of decades ago, about an experiment that took place further back in history, but it is just as relevant to today’s world and should be required reading for schools everywhere.


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