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Literature / The Amy Virus

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The Amy Virus is a novel by Andee Joyce. Fifteen-year-old Cynthia Ann Butt was diagnosed with autism as a young child, but she is now "in remission" thanks to the Good Brain Diet, a quack diet her parents make money promoting. But when she develops an obsession with the obscure 1960s bossa nova singer Amy Zander, she begins to realize she might still be autistic. Over time, she transforms herself into the singer, songwriter, and percussionist Cyan Beaut, but her parents are not happy with her transformation and go to increasingly desperate lengths to hide the truth about her autism.

The Amy Virus was published in 2016 online and can be read for free here.

The Amy Virus contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Cyan's parents are the emotionally and financially abusive type. Cyan's mother eventually has a Heel Realization and becomes The Atoner, while Cyan's father just gets worse. This culminates in them divorcing and Belinda taking full custody of Cyan so Daniel can't hurt her anymore.
    • According to Eroica, her mother physically abused her because of her autism, which is one of the reasons why she helps Cyan run away from her parents.
  • The Atoner: At the end, Cyan's mother becomes this, admitting that her husband scared her into promoting the sham diet and financially/emotionally abusing Cyan, and that she's never been brave enough to stand up to him until after Cyan ran away. Afterwards, she decides to divorce him and take full custody of their daughter so he can never hurt her again. Then after finding Cyan in Portland and reconciling with her, she promises to expose the Good Brain Diet as the quack that it is, end the "autism remission" claims, and clear Mr. Shunsberg's name to the best of her ability.
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  • Author Avatar: The author, Andee Joyce, is autistic musician/songwriter like Cyan is, and according the "About the Author" page, she began to discover her musical identity around the time she was embracing her autistic identity.
  • The B Grade: The Butts hold all three of their daughters to extremely high standards and are dismayed when Cyan starts bringing home B minuses.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Cyan's mother Belinda is a former plus-size model. She's still described as very pretty.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Cyan's older sisters, Annabeth and Tam, treat her with much more respect and understanding than their parents do. For example, when Cyan's father holds her down and tries to force clothes onto her so she can go to school, Tam instantly stands up to him and points out that Cyan actually threw up the previous night, so she was too sick to go anywhere.
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  • Big Sister Worship: Cyan is in awe of Annabeth, a brilliant, charming medical resident almost a decade her senior.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Cyan's parents' blog posts portray her as an eye-rolling teenager who thinks her parents are "soooo laaaaaame." Justified, since they're trying to make her look as neurotypical as possible.
    Cyan: I have never said laaaaaaame in my entire life.
  • Broken Pedestal: Discussed by Cyan and Renate, when the former isn't sure if she should seek out Amy out of fear that she may be a jerk. Ultimately averted when Amy is shown to be just as friendly in real life as she is on stage, and she appreciates Cyan recognizing her.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Amy reveals that this is another reason why she left the music industry; she developed severe asthma, and because everyone smoked back then and doing it inside public places was considered acceptable, it became difficult for Amy to perform publicly.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Cyan and her mother are at a tea shop in town, the former mentions that the latter got their house in her Aunt's inheritance. When Belinda has her Heel Realization and finally stands up to her husband, which culminates in their divorce and Belinda taking full custody of their daughter, she gets to keep the house because she's the one who inherited it.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Shaina Dill is a minor character, but she's mentioned to be one of the only people in school who was nice to Cyan before Renate shows up. When Cyan runs away with the help of Renate and Eroica, they contact Shaina so they can let a trusted person know they're okay and have her give them updates on Cyan's parents.
  • Classical Music Is Cool: Eroica loves classical music so much, she renamed herself after a Beethoven symphony.
  • Control Freak: Cyan's father in a nutshell. He believes that all of his daughters are destined to be doctors and go to Caltech, and thinks being interested in anything else will automatically result in a life of poverty even though . While Annabeth has sucessfully done this, it's not enough for him. He refuses to let Tam go to RISD and doesn't approve of her artistry, even though she's interested in the industrial design program which can still make a lot of money. This leads to Tam applying to it behind his back. The worst is with Cyan, as he constantly cracks down on her, doling punishment after punishment on her for wanting to be a drummer and constantly denying that she's autistic, which culminates into Cyan running away to Portland when he tries to pull her out of school and cut her off from her friends in order to have 24/7 surveillance on her. Even Cyan's mother has had enough of it near the end.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Cyan's parents promote and force her to eat the quack Good Brain Diet in order to "force" her autism "into remission", which consists of bits of animals most people wouldn't be caught dead eating (animal brains, animal eyes, animal organs, animal skins, even chicken toenails) and unripe fruits. It’s clear that the diet is a way for the parents to force their control over Cyan. Cyan buying some hot chocolate at a Safeway is the first sign that she is rebelling against her parents' control.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Averted with Eroica's mom, who was physically and emotionally abusive to her, so Eroica doesn't miss her one bit. Eroica's father, on the other hand, is loving and caring parent.
  • Dumb Struck: Cyan becomes so stressed out that she loses the ability to speak for several weeks.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Cyan finally gets to meet the real Amy Zander at the Portland drum store she now owns. She turns out to be just as friendly as Cyan imagined she was, and they do a drum duet together. This causes Spectral Amy to disappear because Cyan doesn’t need her anymore. Cyan’s mother has a Heel Realization and finally stands up to her controlling husband, which culminates in them divorcing. Belinda promises that she’ll clear the charges against Mr. Shusburg to the best of her ability. Belinda, Cyan, and Eroica decide to work together to write a statement outing the Good Brain Diet as a scam, expose Daniel’s abuse (which would guarantee him losing full custody of Cyan and her sisters in the upcoming court case) and end the “autism remission” claims. This would shut down the industry for good. Furthermore, Cyan is allowed to legally change her name, pursue her drumming interests, and can finally get an autism diagnosis and an IEP, which would help her improve her grades and stay focused. The best part is, the whole family can now eat anything they want, so Cyan decides to learn how to cook to make it up to her mom and sisters for running away.
  • Emancipated Child: One of the first songs Cyan writes is called "Emancipated Minor." She would have officially emancipated herself after running away if her mom didn't have her Heel Realization.
  • Embarrassing Last Name: Cynthia Butt, of course which is one of the reasons why she wants to change it to Cyan Beaut. and her friend Renate Silverdick.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Cyan's father wants all three of his daughters to become doctors, but Annabeth is the only one who is willing to do this. When Cyan brings home a bad report card, he confiscates all her music and instruments. In addition, Cyan's older sister Tamarlyn is a talented artist who wants to apply to RISD, but Daniel doesn't want her to go anywhere but Caltech, his Alma Mater, so she applies to RISD behind his back.
  • Financial Abuse: Cyan's parents live off the money they make blogging about the Good Brain Diet. When Cyan begins to rebel, they crack down hard and eventually threaten to have her institutionalized to prevent anyone from finding out she's still autistic, which is what finally convinces Cyan to run away.
  • A Friend in Need: After her parents threaten to institutionalize her, Cyan runs away the next morning on a rental bike and leaves a note for Renate to let her know that she's leaving. Renate catches up in her own rental bike, and has Eroica drive up to the upcoming town so they can bring her back. However, once they learn why she's running away, they immediately decide to help her get to Portland so she can get away from her parents, even admitting it was worth getting grounded to do so.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • While still emotionally abusive, Belinda is shown to be much less strict with Cyan, such as giving her the music-writing notebook back after Cyan's father confiscated it and allowing Cyan to go to Renate's New Year Eve party unsupervised. She also seems shocked at some of the harsher things Daniel does, such as telling Mr. Shusberg "Fuck you" when he thinks they should get an IEP for Cyan, and she calls out Daniel for considering buying test papers and homework to keep the remission charade up. During the overheard conversation, she also states that she never should have let Daniel talk her into scamming people with the diet. Cyan running away is what finally kickstarted Belinda's Heel Realization and stand up to Cyan's father. She is also the parent who admits that her actions were wrong and puts forth effort to reconcile with Cyan and the other people she has hurt.
    • When Cyan's parents decide to take her to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, they note that Lysistrata is about the women going on strike against their husbands. The day the play is performed, Cyan runs away, making Belinda finally stand up to Daniel, which culminates in their divorce and Belinda kicking Daniel out of both her and Cyan's life.
    • One of the emails Renate gets from Shaina Dill after she and Eroica help Cyan run away mentions that Cyan's parents are yelling at each other while trying to find her. It's very likely that Belinda had her Heel Realization at that point and was finally calling Daniel out on the stuff he did to Cyan.
  • Gaslighting: Cyan's parents do this to make her conform to their rules and make her believe she's "no longer" autistic. Renate even refers to the trope namer when she points it out to Cyan.
  • Good Parents: Eroica mentions that her father is a much better parent than her abusive mother was.
  • Gratuitous Latin: When Cyan becomes severely overwhelmed and falls ill, she loses the ability to speak, but can still sing in Latin.
  • Heel Realization: Cyan's mother eventually has one after Cyan runs away, causing her to divorce her controlling husband, take full custody of Cyan, and try to make amends for the damage she's done.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • The Butts' blog is one of the top sellers for the Good Brain Diet. It's heavily implied that when Belinda, Cyan, and Eroica write a statement exposing the diet for the sham that it is, explaining Daniel's abuse to his family, and showing that there's nothing wrong with being autistic, the scam will end due to its top supporter denouncing it.
    • Cyan's parents force her to give up her phone when her grades start to slip. That ultimately bites them in the ass when Cyan runs away because they aren't able to track down her location or call her. It's even lampshaded by Eroica.
    • Cyan accidentally left out the alt-weekly ad for the drum circle on her desk at home. Tam eventually finds it when looking for clues after Cyan runs away, which is how she and post-Heel Realization Belinda managed to find Cyan. It's a softer example because Belinda has realized how badly she's been screwing up and wanted to find Cyan so she could apologize to her.
  • Hollywood Autism: Cyan's parents believe in this trope. They think Cyan can't still be autistic because she displays musical talent and a sense of humor. Cyan herself averts this trope hard, though. Eroica, who is also autistic, also averts it by having a weekend job and being a lesbian.
  • Hypocrite: Daniel always gets upset about even perceived lying, yet he's made a living with scamming families with the Good Brain Diet fraud. He also believes Renate is a bad influence on Cyan, even though he's the one who's a bad influence on his whole family, especially his wife.
  • Imaginary Friend: Cyan imagines a spectral version of Amy Zander following her around and talking to her. Spectral Amy disappears at the end because Cyan doesn't need her anymore.
  • Jaw Drop: Cyan, Renate, and Eroica do this when Belinda reveals that she finally has had enough of Daniel's abusive Control Freak attitude, so she divorced him and kicked him out of the house she inherited.
  • Meaningful Name: Cyan's father, Daniel Butt, is a pretty big asshole.
  • Meaningful Rename:
    • From Cindy Butt to Cyan Beaut, as part of the process of discovering her identity and breaking away from her parents' control. Her mother promises to make it official at the end.
    • Also, Eroica Witt, formerly known as Erica.
  • Moustache de Plume: Male example. Cyan's father writes blog posts under his wife's name.
  • Never My Fault: The defining trait of Cyan's father other than being a lying hypocrite and a major Control Freak. Tam reveals to Cyan that he actually lost his IT job because he messed up some code and blamed someone else for it instead of admitting he screwed up, not because he was laid off by younger competitors as he had claimed.
    Tam: Everything is someone else's fault, never his.
  • Nice Hat: Eroica wears a purple crochet cat-ear hat all the time.
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: At first, Cyan's father seems like he genuinely believes that the Good Brain Diet is helping Cyan. He even points out that autistic people are less like likely to be hired for jobs. However, as the story goes on, especially after it's revealed that Cyan's parents know that the Good Brain Diet is a total quack, it becomes clear that Cyan's father doesn't want Cyan officially diagnosed with autism because he wants complete control of Cyan's life.
  • Offscreen Karma: Belinda, Cyan, and Eroica decided to expose the truth about the Good Brain Diet at the end of the story as well as Daniel's abuse to Cyan. This will permanently discredit Daniel, Dr. Nansi, and everybody else involved with the scam, and they would be charged with fraud and faced with several lawsuits. Belinda even acknowleges that she will also have to face legal proceedings because she still helped with the fraud. However, since the story ends after Belinda and Cyan reconcile, we don't see this happen.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Belinda finally stands up to Daniel, forcibly divorces him, and then kicks him out of the house she had inherited so he can never hurt Cyan again. Because the story is told from Cyan's P.O.V., we only learn about what happened after Tam and Belinda find her in Portland.
  • The Other Wiki: Cyan obsessively checks Amy Zander's Wikipedia page, which keeps being deleted for lack of notoriety. She also fantasizes about her own Wikipedia page if she makes it big as a musician.
  • Portland: The story takes place in a small town in Southern Oregon, and Cyan runs away to this city to escape her parents.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • What starts the plot is when Cyan learns from Dr. Ngo, a college-trained school psychologist, is that autism is a developmental disorder, so even though you can learn the social and communication skills to get through life, you can’t be “cured” of it. Cyan’s parents even know that the Good Brain Diet is a fraud.
    • Even though Belinda has a Heel Realization at the end and reconciles with Cyan, she acknowledges that she still will face legal trouble and possible lawsuits as she still helped her now ex-husband scam people out of their money.
  • The Runaway: After Cyan's parents threaten to institutionalize her to cover up the fact that she's still autistic, Cyan runs away early the next morning, convinced that if her parents are willing to go that far, they'd be willing to kill her if they thought it could bring them more money. When Tam and post-Heel Realization Belinda find her, Cyan outright states that she was given no choice but to run.
  • Satiating Sandwich: The first meal Cyan has after she runs away is a Subway sandwich with pretty much everything on it.
  • Screaming at Squick: Part of the reason why Cyan knows that she won't be able to become a doctor is that she can't look at gross things without screaming or heaving.
  • Screwed By The Label: In-universe example. For Amy's second album in 1971, the label forced her to record a song she hated. When she couldn't get it right, the label dropped her and got another girl to record it.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: After Cyan runs away, Renate and Eroica go after her because they think she's making a terrible mistake. Once they learn that her parents threatened to institutionalize her, they immediately decide to help Cyan run away so her parents can no longer hurt her, even when they know they'll get punished by their own parents for it.
    Renate: We're supposed to be back in Ashland by noon, and it's almost eleven-thirty now. We're doing some backstage tour meet and greet thingie-whatsis. [The Chaperones] are going to freak if we're gone for the entire day and then miss Lysistrata on top of it. And my parents will ground the crap out of me. And [Portland]'s what, a four and a half hour drive from here, if we don't hit major traffic?
    Eroica: But otherwise you don't completely hate the idea, do you?
    Renate: Nope.
    Cyan: What, you're not afraid of getting grounded?
    Eroica: For smuggling you into Portland? Oh, I'll totally get grounded for that. Probably won't see my car keys for a month, at least. My dad's not that lienent. But it's still nothing compared to what your parents plan to do to you.
  • The Shrink:
    • As Cyan starts losing focus in school and her grades start to slip, she decides to go the school therapist, Dr. Ngo, during his office hours to figure out what's going on. He's the one who helps her realize that there is no such thing as autism remission, and he beomes a major confidant of hers from then on.
    • Renate is a former bulimic, so she sees an Eating Disorder therapist once a month to prevent relaspe.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Cyan wears glasses.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Cyan's parents, Dr. Nansi, and the others who promote the Good Brain Diet to "cure" autism are all this, and Cyan's parents' case, they know that it's a fraud. At the end, Cyan, her mother, and Eroica are planning to write a final blog post exposing the truth about the diet in order to shut down the scam.
  • Starving Artist: The reason why Cyan's father discourages her drumming and songwriting hobbies, and doesn't want Tam to go to RISD for college, is because he believes that being a doctor is the only way to make a living in the current 2010s US economy. However, this belief also demonstrates one of the ways Daniel enforces his control over his family. Not only is he insistant that they attend Caltech, his Alma Mater, despite being other good colleges out there, he goes so far as to confiscate any of Cyan's music and instruments to keep her from practicing her hobby. Also, in Tam's case, she's planning on averting this by majoring in Industrial Design at RISD, which would help her find a very good career off her drawings.
  • Stepford Smiler: Cyan's mother starts to give off this vibe as the book goes on, foreshadowing her eventual Heel Realization.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Cyan's father encourages Tam to spy and snitch on Cyan. It doesn't work because Tam treats Cyan with much more respect than either of their parents do, and because by that point in the story, Tam isn't on good terms with her parents, either.
  • Supreme Chef: After Cyan and Belinda reconcile, Cyan promises to learn how to cook so everybody can start eating normal meals again.
  • Suspiciously Similar Song: In-universe example. "Gypsy Love," the song Amy's label forces her to record, sounds so similar to "Gypsy Woman" that Amy is worried about being sued by Curtis Mayfield.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Cyan's father falsely accuses Mr. Shunsberg of this in order for the school to back off on getting Cyan the help that she needed. Cyan and Belinda plan to reveal the truth at the end.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Cyan's father believes Renate is this because Renate is encouraging Cyan to stand up to him. In reality, he's the one who's being a toxic influence on his family.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Eroica Witt is an autistic lesbian.
  • Women Are Wiser: While both of Cyan's parents are jerks, her mother is definetely the kinder one. She's also the parent who makes an effort to reconcile with Cyan when she finds her in Portland and admitting everything she did to her was wrong, while her husband continues to insist he's done nothing wrong.


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