Grayson: A Book Review and Lesson on Positivity

Lynne Cox (source:

For Lynne Cox, a champion long distance open water swimmer, practice and positivity go hand in hand.

If you’re unfamiliar with Lynne and her triumphs, here are just a few of her records:

  • In 1972 at age 15 Lynne swam across the English Channel and shattered the men’s and women’s world records with a time of 9 hours and 57 minutes.
  • In 1975 Lynne became the first woman to swim across Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Her time was 12 hour and 2 1/2 minutes.
  • In 1976 Lynne became the first person to swim across the 42 degree F waters of the Strait of Magellan with a time of 1 hour 2 minutes.
  • In 1985 Lynne swam “Around the World in 80 Days” by swimming 12 extremely challenging waterways some that had never been attempted.
  • In 1987 Lynne became the first person to swim across the Bering Strait as a way to open the US-Soviet Border for the first time in 48 years with a time of 2 hours and 6 minutes.
  • In 1994 Lynne swam through the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt to Israel and from Israel to Jordan tracing the progress of peace between the three countries.
  • In 2002 Lynne became the first person to complete a 1.2 miles in Antarctica, from the ship the Orlova to Neko Harbor in a time of 25 minutes.  (All facts from Lynne Cox’s website)

Not bad right?  Would you believe me if I said Lynne was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame?  She is.

Lynne’s journey in the water began at the age of 9, when she was coached by Harvard University coach, Ben Muritt.  By age 12, she was working with 4 time US Olympic trainer Don Gambril.

Grayson, is a memoir by Lynne about a routine swim practice that became a life defining moment.  She was only 17 years old when this happened.

Imagine yourself swimming laps early in the morning, back and forth between pier points.  The sun is not up yet.  You are alone in this day where the black sky blends into the dark waters.  Suddenly, hundreds upon hundreds of anchovies are swimming past you!  And behind them are grunion.  Slippery, iridescent fish are moving so fast, that one grunion ends up in your mouth!

This is a grunion. (source:

After the grunion, you become swarmed by large, 40 pound tuna, bouncing out of the water, all chomping for their next meal.  That’s when you realize, you’re in a food chain cycle.

Below you, the current is weighted.  You can tell something is beneath you.  Something big.  It’s following your path.  As you continue to stroke forward, you peer behind you with each breath checking for dorsal fins.  Is it a shark?  Panic in every fiber of your body tells you to leave the water, but the fighter inside you says stay.  Stay and finish your workout.  This situation is real and you will face it again on another swim, you have to prepare yourself.  Stay.

You can see a friend on shore waving their arms at you.  He comes running down and he tells you, “It’s a whale!”


That is the beginning of the story of Grayson, a four month old baby gray whale and how Lynne meets him while she is practicing in the ocean.  What follows is an epic journey that lasted hours where the two new friends go in search of Grayson’s mother, without whom he will not survive.

Lynne Cox swimming (source:

You will not believe what they go through, and yet through it all, Lynne is a consistent reminder of the power of positivity in our thoughts.  There are times where her body becomes weak, where she loses Grayson, where she wonders if his mother is dead.  But Lynne will defy it all and remain assertive.  She will remind you that there is no task too big if you break it down and go piece by piece.  She will remind you that the hardest and most difficult trials of our lives are best made with decisions of heart instead of head.  And she will do all of this with such imagery as you can barely imagine.

For this midwest girl, the Mississippi River is the closest thing I have to open water.  I have been to both oceans surrounding our country, but I have never had the delights and trepidations that Lynne describes while encountering dolphins and jellyfish.  It has been a few months since I read this book, it was at the end of summer.  I just went to my library’s book discussion on it and it reminded me that I while I was reading this book, I was sitting on a patio chair outside with my feet up on the seat because reading about the food chain cycle around her was terrifying!  I also shared bits of the book aloud with my boyfriend because the descriptions are so rich and magical. Lynne Cox does something only a handful of us can do, but she invites us along in her writing with beauty and awe.

If any of you are looking for a great Christmas present idea, I highly recommend Lynne’s book.  She intended it for an adult audience, but teens all over have grasped at this inspiring story and found hope in its pages.  It’s a book that with a message that will make you go, “Ok Lynne, I know you’re talking to me!” and anyone can appreciate it.

Go get this book!

For more information about Lynne, her world records, her speaking engagements, her other books, and even her blog, check out her website

What do you think?  Can you imagine swimming in the ocean with a baby whale?  What experiences have you had growing up where positive thinking played a crucial role in helping you face an overwhelming situation?

15 responses

  1. Thank you SO much, Jess, for this post. I love stories about whales and the oceans and this woman’s tenacity and perseverance are an inspiration to all of us. I’m going now to buy her book.
    Thank you again.

    1. Her descriptions really are gorgeous. She has a brand new book out too called South of the Sun about the first man to swim to both the North and South Poles. I’m interested in that because as a child she read about leaders. I think what a fascinating thing that is and wonder how reading about leaders shaped the person she would become. Don’t you wonder how our teens would grow up if they all had that opportunity?

  2. Jess! I’ve read this book and seen Lynne interviewed. What an amazing story, right? You are spot on about this being a great, motivational read. Love it!

    1. I think it would such an awesome book for teens to read too. It’s a big push to think positively which I think our classrooms are in desperate need of. Imagine if Jonah from that you tube clip you posted could have been given access to the words of Lynne or other leaders, would it have made a difference? Would it have helped? I hope so.

  3. Jess, your review snagged me with the description of the anchovies swimming past Lynne Cox. Thanks for introducing me to her–and to Grayson.

    1. How amazing would that would be to feel all those fish around you? Amazing and frightening, right? Hope you enjoy Grayson!

  4. Wow, this sounds like an awesome book. What a great review. You had me on the edge of my seat

    1. I was on the edge of my seat reading most of it! It’s just a phenomenal story that Lynne tells with great visuals.

  5. I’m sorry I’ve never visited your post before Jess. I really enjoyed it.

    I am going to go buy this book. Thank you for sharing this story. 🙂

    1. Glad you liked the review; I hope you enjoy Grayson even more and share it with friends!

  6. I hadn’t heard of Lynne before this post but now I’ll check out her website and book. What a wonderful story.

    1. I wish her blog was more up to date because she’s got some phenomenal projects going on, but her old posts are interesting too. Enjoy!

  7. Growing up in Hawaii, I swam in the ocean all the time. Can’t say I ever saw a whale, but there were a few moray eels that freaked me out from time to time!

    1. Oh that’s really cool, Mark! Have your kids had some cool ocean swims living on the coast too?

  8. […] Stiefvater. Amanda Rudd reviews In Leah’s Wake by Terri Giuliano Long. Jess Witkins reviews Grayson by Lynne Cox. Shea MacLeod does an “interreview” of Die, Zombie, Die by Jack Wallen. […]

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