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The Many Lives of Mama Love (Oprah's Book Club)

A Memoir of Lying, Stealing, Writing, and Healing

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About The Book

“Once you start reading, be prepared, because you won’t want to stop.” —Oprah Winfrey

OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • New York Times bestselling author Lara Love Hardin recounts her slide from soccer mom to opioid addict to jailhouse shot caller and her unlikely comeback as a highly successful ghostwriter in this harrowing, hilarious, no-holds-barred memoir.

No one expects the police to knock on the door of the million-dollar two-story home of the perfect cul-de-sac housewife. But soccer mom Lara Love Hardin has been hiding a shady secret: she is funding her heroin addiction by stealing her neighbors’ credit cards.

Lara is convicted of thirty-two felonies and becomes inmate S32179. She finds that jail is a class system with a power structure that is somewhere between an adolescent sleepover party and Lord of the Flies. Furniture is made from tampon boxes, and Snickers bars are currency. But Lara quickly learns the rules and brings love and healing to her fellow inmates as she climbs the social ladder and acquires the nickname “Mama Love,” showing that jailhouse politics aren’t that different from the PTA meetings she used to attend.

When she’s released, she reinvents herself as a ghostwriter. Now, she’s legally co-opting other people’s identities and getting to meet Oprah, meditate with the Dalai Lama, and have dinner with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But the shadow of her past follows her. Shame is a poison worse than heroin—there is no way to detox. Lara must learn how to forgive herself and others, navigate life as a felon on probation, and prove to herself that she is more good than bad, among other essential lessons.

The Many Lives of Mama Love is a heartbreaking and tender journey from shame to redemption, despite a system that makes it almost impossible for us to move beyond the worst thing we have ever done.

Reading Group Guide

The Many Lives of Mama Love by Lara Love Hardin

1. The first line of The Many Lives of Mama Love is, “Reading was my first addiction.” Later, Hardin clarifies by saying, “The truth is I’ve only ever had one addiction. The white whale of addictions: escape.” How did the author use her various addictions to escape? What was she escaping from? Do you consider reading and books an escape?

2. “Redemption is for the good, and deep down I have always known that I am bad.” Discuss the theme of redemption in the book. How does the author navigate the challenges of overcoming addiction, a criminal record, and social ostracism to find redemption in her life? When does she come to feel she’s earned redemption?

3. Hardin describes jail as “a class system… There are rules I don’t know. A system I can’t comprehend… A power structure that is somewhere between an adolescent sleepover and being jumped into a gang.” How does this depiction shed light on the dynamics of the prison system and its impact on inmates?

4. Hardin earns the name “Mama Love” in jail by looking after the women she’s with, explaining things like ovulation, and performing other “motherly” gestures. How does this impact jail culture while she’s there? What is the difference between “Mama Love” and the woman known as “Daddy”? Why does Daddy respect Mama Love, and how does that affect Hardin’s time spent in jail?

5. Hardin uses humor throughout her memoir to balance the harrowing aspects of her story. How does humor help convey the resilience and strength of the author in the face of adversity? Was the humor helpful in reading such a complex and often dark journey?

6. “I was always a better version of me on the page… I love pretending to be someone who isn’t me,” Hardin writes. Discuss how ghostwriting connects to Hardin’s drug addiction. How does writing others’ stories help shape the author’s perspective on her own life and experiences?

7. One of the most harrowing parts of the book is Hardin’s effort to navigate the confusing and conflicting requirements of three different parts of the same system once she’s out of jail. How does her experience shed light on the challenges faced by female felons in our justice system? Do you think there’s need for reform? What do you think should be done differently?

8. Discuss the importance of what happens when Hardin calls Child Protective Services to tell them her husband, DJ, is using drugs in their bathroom. What do you make of the line, “In jail, it’s not okay to snitch, but I’m not in jail anymore”? Is this the turning point for her, or do you think that happened earlier?

9. Doug says to Hardin, “I can’t work with Archbishop Tutu and not put into practice his ideas around forgiveness, redemption, and Ubuntu.” The definition of “Ubuntu” is: “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” How does this moment change Hardin’s life? Would you have forgiven Hardin if you found out about her past? How does Hardin’s encounters with influential figures like Oprah, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Tutu impact her own personal growth and journey towards self-compassion?

10. Discuss the title of the book: The Many Lives of Mama Love. How many lives has she lived, and how many have you lived? Do you think we all live many lives? How did this book challenge or change your perspective on addiction, motherhood, societal judgement, and second chances?

Enhance your book club:

1. In jail, Hardin reads The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. She uses it to not only gain power within the hierarchy of jail (“Quiet power,” as she tells Daddy), but as inspiration to start meditating. If you’ve had experience with meditation, share how it has affected you. If you don’t meditate, consider starting a daily practice using many free resources available, such as apps or YouTube videos. Keep each other accountable, and check-in with any challenges and breakthroughs.

2. Watch Lara Love Hardin’s TED Talk, Thieves of Hope: Moving Past Your Worst Mistakes. How does her approach to shame and forgiveness provide hope? What tools can you use from Lara’s experience to help you forgive yourself for the worst thing you’ve ever done?

3. The author credits The Gemma Program for helping her during and after her time in jail. Check out programs like The Sentencing Project, The Decarceration Project, or reach out to Lara's own non-profit: The Gemma Project, where you can donate or help to create a local Gemma Program in your area: TheGemmaProject.org. Volunteer at: https://www.thegemmaproject.org/volunteer

About The Author

Lara Love Hardin is a literary agent, author, and president of True Literary. Prior to founding True Literary, she was the co-CEO of Idea Architects. She has an MFA in creative writing and is a five-time New York Times bestselling collaborative writer, including the #1 bestseller Designing Your Life and the 2018 Oprah’s Book Club pick The Sun Does Shine, which she coauthored with Anthony Ray Hinton. She lives in La Selva Beach, California.  

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 27, 2024)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668069608

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Raves and Reviews

"Heartfelt, humor-tinged prose…The Many Lives of Mama Love contains notes of Wild, Orange is the New Black, and Catch me if you Can. —The New York Times

"A courageous and inspiring memoir." Kirkus Reviews

“Grips you as suddenly as any psychological thriller… Readers will experience the lows and highs of addiction, incarceration and rehabilitation as Love Hardin assembles the pieces of her shattered life into something beautiful again in this inspiring chronicle.” BookPage

“A hilarious and heartbreaking confession that will not let you go until it is done—and then it will haunt you. It will give you hope in what is possible for each of us if we allow others—and ourselves—to move beyond our shame, find redemption, and write a new, more inspiring story of our lives.” —Lori Gottlieb, author of the New York Times bestseller, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

The Many Lives of Mama Love is a masterclass in perseverance. This brilliant memoir is a reminder and inspiration that sometimes the only way out of suffering is to go straight through it. This book will leave you inspired and empowered to reveal your own most authentic self.” —Rich Roll, bestselling author of Finding Ultra and host of The Rich Roll Podcast

“Laced with penetrating wit, written with unsparing honesty and manifesting irrepressible resilience, The Many Lives of Mama Love is a book to intrigue, enchant, instruct, entertain and inspire readers of all ages and backgrounds. It speaks to our common human experience of suffering and the healing that can follow.” —Gabor Maté M.D., author of the New York Times bestseller, The Myth of Normal

“Start this thrilling, heartrending, funny book, and you won’t stop. I couldn’t. From page one, I was swept into Hardin's remarkable, un-put-down-able, artfully told story of suffering and redemption. This book can help anyone who’s struggled and felt hopelessness (and who hasn’t?). shows that not only can we survive the bleakest times, but we can thrive in them and because of them. ” —David Sheff, author of #1 New York Times bestseller, Beautiful Boy

“A compelling and timely rebuttal to the perverse and unjust notion that people who are convicted of crimes can only be criminals. This critically important idea is essential for a nation that has been so derailed by destructive “law and order” narratives that have left us both less just and less safe.” —Bryan Stevenson, author of the New York Times bestseller Just Mercy

“Hardin reveals who we truly are deep inside: infinite souls of limitless possibility. We are far more than the sum of what we have done and not done, what we have and do not have. In her profound, moving memoir, Hardin is honest, courageous, and challenges us to exceed the limiting definition we impose on ourselves and one another. We all can be redeemed.” —Dr. Lisa Miller, psychologist and author of the New York Times bestseller, The Spiritual Child

“This book will make you laugh, cry, and realize that everyone deserves a chance and, sometimes more than one. A powerful, poignant memoir filled with grace, enlightenment and love.” —Dr. James Doty, author of the New York Times bestseller, Into The Magic Shop

“Lara Love Hardin writes with the same humor and bravery that helped her navigate incarceration, sobriety and a daunting return to the community to regain her place in her children's lives. This beautifully told story flies in the face of assumptions about substance use disorder and incarcerated women and shows how community and connection help people rebuild themselves for the better.” —Piper Kerman, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Orange is the New Black

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