**Spoilers! This post may cause a minor to severe reaction to spoilers from books featuring the top contemporary beta heroes—but don't worry, these guys will nurse you back to health.**
I can’t help it. I swoon for the good guy, the guy who even though he’s the right choice for me—ahem, I mean for the heroine, of course—he still makes mistakes along the way that keep us from getting our happily ever after too early in the book. Good does not equal perfect. Perfect is boring. But give me a flawed good guy, the one who has the right stuff but stumbles along with the heroine to get the place where my heart swells and I can’t stop smiling, and I’m a goner.
There are so many good guys in romance, and there’s no way I can cover them all. That’s why I’m going to narrow the focus to the mostly the youngins, the YA and NA nice guy heroes (with a couple of full-fledged grown-ups sprinkled in), because despite not being a YA or NA myself, these are some of my favorite books to read. It’s all about firsts in YA, first love with the guy you wish existed when you went to high school. And in NA, it’s that emerging adult first. Sure some high school relationships last until “I do,” but it’s really in the NA years that we start to really consider the idea of forever. So, who are some of my favorite wish-they-were-my-first-love betas? Read on to find out with the fine print being, DON’T READ ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN’T READ IN CASEOF SPOILERS. Okay, maybe that print is not so fine, but you get the gist.
Matt Watkins in Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park
I’m sorry, but this guy had me at his Nietzsche is my homeboy t-shirt. Talk about smart being sexy—Matty has it going on. He is the good guy, doing the unthinkable to hold his family together while doing everything wrong as he falls in love with Julie. He messes up, BIG time, yet everything he does comes from a place of love, from a pure but broken heart. I’ve reread some of my favorite scenes of this book numerous times because I love falling for Matt over and over again.
Levi from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl
I will fight anyone who tries to steal Levi from me. He’s MINE. In truth, I really just want to live inside a Rainbow Rowell book, and I guess if I had to choose just one, it would be Fangirl. Because Levi. Cath’s description of Levi: “He had the smilingest face she’d ever seen.” Levi to Cath when she needs some convincing of how much he loves her: “I choose you over everyone.” WHAT? Who smiles like that? Who says that knee-buckling line? Levi does. LE—VI.
Will Cooper in Slammed by Colleen Hoover
He’s a twenty-one-year-old raising his little brother after the death of his parents. He’s a slam poet and a soon-to-be English teacher in love with his neighbor (and surprise…student!), Layken, yet takes the moral high road even if it breaks both their hearts. Even though the story is told from Layken’s point of view, this was so much Will’s story as well, and I felt his struggle. I got angry with him when I knew what he was doing was the right thing, but man oh man did he frustrate me. That’s what the good guys do—let their goodness cause that intense emotional conflict that kept me wondering how these two would get their happily ever after when everything was working against them.
Cade Winston from Cora Carmack’s Faking It
I was pretty meh about Cade in Losing It, but I guess that’s how I was supposed to feel because who could compete against Garrick—sexy, intelligent, and British? And when I started Faking It, I swore there was no way Cade was going to outdo my British, Shakespeare reading, Jane Austen performing professor. I. Was. Wrong. Helloooo Golden Boy. It took a complicated good guy like Cade to bring Max back from the heart-breaking tragedy that kept her closed off and emotionally isolated. And the two of them together? Absolutely steamy and angsty and everything I want in a romance.
Cricket Bell in Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Even though Anna and the French Kiss wins for me as my favorite Stephanie Perkins book so far (haven’t read Isla yet), Cricket Bell stands out as one of the ultimate, true beta heroes for me. Cricket is quirky, funny, ridiculously smart—like literally a genius, sweet, and oh-so-patient with Lola. All of this, plus his striking good looks make him gorgeous inside and out. Sure, he and Lola make a lot of mistakes along the way to happily ever after, but that’s the whole point—watching them get there. Stephanie Perkins is a wonder with YA romance, and anything she writes is a must read for me.
Alec Stone from Megan Erickson’s Make it Count
Do I need to say any more aside from Nerd is the new black? Okay, how about a glasses wearing, pompadour stylin’, dirty dancing statistics tutor who made me pretty much jump off the couch the first time I read Kat and Alec’s first steamy scene? Ain’t nothing nerdy about what this boy can do in a tutoring session OR in the bedroom. And wow is this guy full of heart—a great friend, an amazing son, and the kind of boyfriend all of us wish we had when we were in college.
Jason Landry in Taste the Heat by Rachel Harris
Rachel Harris's Jason is a top notch sexy good guy—a fireman, a widow, and a father. And he can cook. Plus, he’s tall, dark, and delicious. He had me swooning the second he walked onto the page, and his grand gesture to Colbie—the girl who’d loved him since high school yet had been hurt too many times to trust love as an adult—I’m still swooning, and I read this book last spring.
Ryder from Alesandra Thomas’s Drop Everything Now
A Vegas stripper beta hero? Yes. That’s Ryder Strong. I know. The name doesn’t evoke a beta essence, but trust me, this guy is more than just the outer package. The heroine, Andi, is dealing with a mom seriously injured in a car wreck, leaving college in the middle of the semester to come home to take care of her. What she finds is not just a hot stripper but a guy doing what he can to make ends meet and take care of a family member of his own. The end of this book—a lovely, sweet, read over and over again grand gesture from our hero—had me trying to wipe a goofy grin off my face for days.
Adam Wilde in Where She Went by Gayle Forman
I fell in love with Adam in If I Stay, the rock star on the rise who offers to let Mia go if she’ll fight to live. But it’s not until we get his story, three years later, in Where She Went that we see how deep Adam’s love for Mia truly goes. He may be a bona fide rock star now—with a reputation—but people aren’t always who they seem. And when we learn what happened to Adam since the end of If I Stay as well as see what he’s still willing to sacrifice for love, Gayle Forman proves that a tortured, famous musician is one of the best good guys out there.
Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma
Before anyone gets all up in arms about Mr. Darcy not being on this list, I think he’s kind of a given, right? Everyone wishes Mr. Darcy was real. I’m just here to make sure that we don’t overlook Mr. Knightley, and because this is the one book on my list that has made its way into a few film adaptations, in lieu of a book cover I am offering a glimpse at my favorite portrayal of Mr. Knightley, Jeremy Northam. Mr. Knightley is the dashing, level-headed, seeming big brother figure to Emma, a girl who fails miserabley at being a matchmaker and even more so at finding true love herself. It takes a guy like Knightley to call her on her BS for Emma to realize how much his opinion of her matters because DUH…she LOVES him.
So, there you have it. Ten of my favorite betas. This does not cover all the good guys of romance. It doesn’t even make a dent. So please add to the list. Who are your favorite beta heroes?
To find out more about each book mentioned:
Amy Pine (writing as AJ Pine) is the author of the New Adult pair, If Only (out now with Entangled Embrace) and What If? (out soon with Entangled Embrace) as well as One Night and One Life, another NA duo out in 2015 from Intermix/Penguin.