The Wave by Morton Rhue

A review of the young adult literary novel The Wave by Morton Rhue.

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Ben Ross, a young history teacher, is tired of tardy students and sloppy homework assignments, so when he sees an opportunity to not only expand the knowledge of his students but also improve their punctuality and discipline, he dives straight in. He creates The Wave: a movement which he hopes will enable his students to comprehend the claims of many German citizens after the Second World War; in particular their denial of the knowledge of concentration and death camps.

The classroom experiment builds momentum quicker than Ben could have imagined and, fuelled by propaganda and pressure to conform, spreads throughout the entire school within just a few days.

Laurie Saunders, a girl in Ben Ross’ history class, is one of very few students not taken in by the fast spreading movement of The Wave. We follow the happenings of both Ben and Laurie as the experiment takes hold of their school, and through them we experience the reactions and repercussions, the discrimination, the pressure, and the building of mob mentality among the teenage members of The Wave.

This story, based on a real classroom experiment which took place in California in 1969, shows both the positives and negatives of working in such a disciplined unit. On one hand, every member of The Wave is equal and united, creating an addictive buzz of team spirit, with the class loser on an even educational playing field as the quarter back; on the other, the members have lost their individuality and are feeling the terrifying pressure to change who they are and conform to The Wave.

I was quickly hooked by this no-nonsense, realistic story due to its fast pace and accurate depiction of student life. I enjoyed discovering how each and every character reacted differently to the experiment; seeing their vast and varied emotions and responses, to both The Wave itself, and to each other.

This story is written in third-person, and not only switches between the dominant characters Ben and Laurie, but also between some secondary characters as well, such as Ben’s wife and Laurie’s boyfriend. The thoughts of these characters are clearly told and easy to follow, while often avoiding the use of the tacky phrase ‘he thought/she thought.’

This story is very short at just 147 pages, and is written in a straightforward, non-complex and easy-to-understand way. The Wave is a clear warning—it conveys the frightening capability we each have inside us, every member of the human race, to unknowingly become part of a movement similar to the Nazi regime when put under the right circumstances.

This book was written for young adults, and although it was first published in 1981, I believe it to still be relevant reading for young adults of today. I would recommend this book to anyone who is intrigued by the weak tendency we all have within us to fit in and conform to the masses, and the repercussions such tendencies might create.

Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.

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