Kids in school read books about sad and difficult things all the time. They read Animal Farm and Lord Of The Flies. Heaven knows they’ve read about some very painful deaths if they read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games books. Sometimes they even read about the complicated and sexy lives of adults — I believe I was 11 when I read Rebecca and 12 when I read Gone With The Wind. They will not miss the difference, in Eleanor & Park, between the behavior of the people they relate to and the bullies who make those people miserable. Hearing bullies swear will not make them want to swear. Hearing bullies torment Eleanor by talking about her breasts won’t make them think that’s what they should do. They will not want to emulate Eleanor’s bullies any more than they want to emulate the worst tendencies they see in Lord Of The Flies.
Ugliness — honesty about ugliness — is important, because it gives shape and meaning to some important stories about not allowing it to swamp you. For kids who already experience difficult things and painful things, it seems like straightforwardly acknowledging that these things exist and hurt, sometimes a lot, is not going to tell them anything they don’t know.