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The Wave is set at Gordon High School over a period of nine days. But this isn't your average high school drama story.
Day 1: Ben Ross shows his students a documentary on the Holocaust. He' upset when he realizes that his students have questions about the Holocaust that he can't answer – he wishes he could give them more.
Day 2: Ben decides to try an experiment that will help his students understand how it was possible for the Nazis to gain control without someone stopping them.
And the experiment begins: he starts by showing them how they can be more disciplined by adjusting their posture and following certain rules. The students already love Ben and they seem to enjoy the exercise.
Day 3: Ben's students want more of what went down the day before, so he goes along with it. He creates a group called The Wave, complete with a logo, mottos, and a salute. One student, David Collins, thinks The Wave can help Gordon High's losing football team, and he starts teaching his teammates about the rules of the group.
David's girlfriend, Laurie Saunders, is kind of excited about The Wave, too. But, when she tells her parents about it, her mom freak out and Laurie wonders if she has a point. In fact, something about The Wave just creeps her out. (Hey, Shmoop is feeling a little creeped out, too.) Meanwhile, Ben's wife Christy is also concerned about The Wave and she hopes her husband isn't getting into something he can't control.
Day 4: Laurie and David get into a tiff on the way to school when she voices her doubts about The Wave. In class that day, Ben gives his students Wave membership cards, which designate some students as "monitors" who are supposed to report Wave members who break the rules. (Uh oh.) He also tells his students that they need to start taking action, action to benefit The Wave. He orders them to recruit new members. (Double uh oh.)
Laurie is increasingly doubtful about The Wave, but her friends get angry when she mentions it. Plus, The Wave seems to be really helping Robert Billings, the class loser. Now that they have The Wave, students accept Robert and he's actually becoming a leader. So it can't be all bad, right? Right?!
On this day, Ben realizes how big The Wave is becoming and he hopes he has it under control.
Day 5: A lot goes down on this day.
Laurie, editor of the school newspaper, gets an anonymous letter from a student complaining that Wave members are bullying other students to try to make them join The Wave. Not good.
Robert Billings asks Ben if he can be Ben's bodyguard – Ben agrees. Um?
The pep-rally for Saturday's football game becomes a Wave rally, and some two hundred new members join. Yikes.
When Laurie refuses to go to the rally, David breaks up with her. So, she hangs out in the publication office of the school paper with other staff members while the Wave members rally. Laurie's had enough: she decides to investigate The Wave and write an exposé about it for the paper.
Day 6: At the football game, Laurie tries to go into the bleachers to talk to her friend Amy, but is told that she can't go up unless she gives The Wave salute. She refuses to give the salute and just heads on out. (Pretty cool how she stands by what she believes in, even with intense peer pressure.)
Day 7: On Sunday, Laurie and the school paper staff have an emergency meeting to flesh out their special issue on The Wave.
Day 8: The special issue is published, which inspires many more students to come forward with bad stories about The Wave. Ben is in big trouble with the principal and many parents, and he knows he has to find a way to stop this mess before things get worse.
After a creepy experience after hours for Laurie in school, David begs Laurie to stop criticizing The Wave. She refuses and he gets physical with her, throwing her to the ground.. Immediately, David realizes what he's done. The Wave has made him forget who he really is and what he really cares about. He and Laurie make up (that was quick!) and go to Ben's house to beg him to stop The Wave.
Day 9: On Tuesday, Ben ends the experiment by telling his students that they have been acting like Nazis. (As noted in "What's Up With the Ending?" this is a tad problematic.) The Wave disbands, leaving Robert Billings in tears. Ben finds Robert crying and heads out with him for a chat and a bite to eat. Hopefully, Ben will find a way to help this kid out… a way that doesn't involve a way-too-weird experiment.