GRAYSON, by Lynne Cox, Harcourt, 153 pages, $13, softcover

In 1972, Lynne Cox swam across the English Channel, breaking both men's and women's world records. She was 15.

As amazing as that experience was, it would not compare to the life-changing event that happened two years later.

Swimming in the early morning hours off California's Seal Beach, Cox noticed a different, charged energy in the water. Attuned to the ebb and flow of the ocean, she knew something was wrong. Alone in the dark some 200 yards off shore, Cox began to panic. What change could possibly create such turmoil?

A practiced distance swimmer, Cox calmed herself down and decided to finish out her training session. It was only when the sun began to rise that she realized a baby gray whale was following her.

The whale had been swimming up the coast from Mexico with his mother and somehow had been separated from her. When he saw Cox, he latched on to her like a puppy dog.

Cox knew that if she returned to shore the baby whale would follow her and die from collapsed lungs. She also knew it depended on its mother for food and would soon lose strength, suffer dehydration and starve to death without another feeding.

Despite her own fatigue and the water's cold 52-degree temperature, Cox chose to stay with the whale — dubbed Grayson ("grace in the water" and the gray's son) — until he was reunited with his mother.

What followed was an exhausting journey to find Grayson's 50-foot mother in the vast ocean. It seemed a tremendous task, but one Cox could not ignore.

Cox's captivating memoir "Grayson" recounts the events from that summer morning.

Cox writes with vivid detail — especially about all the different kinds of ocean life — with descriptions that make the reader feel as if she is in the water swimming beside the baby whale.

She writes, "Grayson took a big breath and dove five feet down, past a cluster of clear moon jellies. They were beautifully transparent except for white circles on top of their domes. Grayson swam by purple jellyfish that were larger, like large Jell-O salad molds, and they were beautiful, graceful swimmers. They moved like opening and closing umbrellas."

Cox also shares her struggles to communicate with Grayson. "More than anything, I wanted to talk to him, and I wished I could understand what he was saying. It was like going to a foreign country and not being able to speak the language. It was frustrating, wanting to somehow make a connection ...."

Those struggles turned to triumph near the end of their swim together when Grayson gave Cox a gift. "He trusted me enough to let me touch him. We were from two different worlds — two different beings, with two different lives, and yet somehow we understood each other."

"Grayson" is a heartwarming and fun read for all ages. This charming remembrance is remarkable in its sincere simplicity. It's like a modern-day fairy tale full of danger, excitement — and a happy ending.


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