I recently read a review of a book I'm reading (FRACTURE by Megan Miranda, out in January) and the reviewer said that the lead boy, Decker, is "hot."
It made me pause.
Now, Decker's not ugly--it's not like people run screaming from him whenever he shows up on the page--but I didn't really get the impression that he's hot. There's another boy in the book, Carson, who's often specifically described as the good looking one of the group of friends, not Decker. In fact, if I were to try to think of what Decker looked like specifically...I couldn't. Not that the author does a bad job of describing him, just that his looks are not really a part of the story and aren't dwelt on.
Decker's the good guy of the novel. There's a bit of a love triangle (not an angsty, over-done one--a realistic one) with another character, Troy, who's the bad boy. Troy's dangerous and older and not good for the main female character. Decker's the boy-next-door (literally) and he's good and kind and he really loves the main female character for who she is. He wants only good things for her--even if that means he misses out on his chance with her.
But he's not hot.
So what made the reviewer think that Decker was "hot?"
I was thinking about that a lot this morning, in part because I got a fan letter from someone who said that my main character, Elder, is hot. Elder's not bad looking--but he's also not deliciously-muscle-bound-contractually-obligated-to-take-his-shirt-off-in-every-scene-oh-boy hot. I took care to describe him physically in order to show his ethnicity--dark skin, dark hair, high cheek bones, almond-shaped dark eyes, etc. But Amy's not instantly physically attracted to him, and I really didn't want their romance to be based on hot-people-making-out. I wanted the romance to be based on two characters who treat each other with respect and whose love develops from friendship as well as attraction.
Which is why, I realized, Elder's hot. And Decker.
They're hot not because of their physical descriptions--they're hot because they're the good guys. They do good things. They are sincere and true.
They are beautiful on the inside, and that makes them hot on the outside.
Which, honestly, makes me happy. I've never been one to like the bad boy--not the really bad boy. This is why I had a hard time liking Edward Cullen: he's physically hot, but he treats Bella rather poorly in the beginning of the first novel, and that made me not like him. (I realize later it's proven that he's actually good, and his meanness was done to protect Bella. I'm just telling you my initial impression of the character; his actions cancelled out his appearance to me.) There are several characters in YA recently who are the "bad boys"--hot, but often mean or even cruel. I've never liked these characters--I don't mind a bad boy with a heart of gold (hello, Captain Mal), but I don't like the unremittingly-kick-the-cat-and-spit-on-your-grandma bad boys.
Give me a good boy. That's what makes a boy really hot.