Ben Ross is a history teacher and is in the process of explaining World War Two to his pupils. He shows his class a film about Nazis and concentration camps. His pupils do not understand what happened and how nobody managed to stop the Nazis. Ben wonders if the behaviour of the majority of Germans during the Nazi regime is really that inexplicable. He does not find answers in books, so he wonders if it is possible to recreate a similar situation to find answers. He tells his students he can create power through discipline. Therefore, he incorporates certain rules in his classroom like : “When asking questions or answering a question, you must stand at the side of your seats […] The first words you say when asking or answering a question are “Mr. Ross"." All the pupils are immediately caught up in the new "game".
The next step of Ben’s project is to give a symbol to the group, namely a wave. Then the pupils begin to make a salute when they see Wave-members.
Ben soon realizes that his project is spreading to the football team and then the entire school. But soon, Laurie (one of Ben’s pupils) realizes that it is all going too far… For example, Wave members start scaring people if they do not want to become members of the group, Ben Ross (called "the leader") has a bodyguard, etc.
Laurie finds a little group of non-wave members and wants to put an end to the whole movement. Indeed, the project’s aim is not to convert people to Nazism, but to show how Nazi Germany originated.
The book, written by Morton Rhue and published in 1981, is based on a true story that happened in California in 1968. It showed how group pressure can force some people to integrate a fascistic movement and to lose their individual rights and identity.