Jenn Crowell, Author . Putnam $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-399-148

Crowell made a splash with her first novel, Necessary Madness, an international hit penned when she was 17. Her second effort examines the plight of a precociously gifted woman—a condition into which she might be presumed to have some insight. Twenty-five-year-old Isobel Sivulka is a doctoral student in psychology at NYU, completing a study of at-risk Brooklyn girls and their undergraduate volunteer mentors. She's something of a mess, despite her academic success and stable boyfriend: overwhelmed by her responsibilities, she can't sleep, forgets to eat and has hallucinations of a young girl standing at the foot of her bed. Just as she's about to finish her dissertation defense, she puts everything on hold and flees to Iceland, following in the footsteps of a high school mentor who had gone there years ago and had a revelation about her own status as a woman. Isobel house-sits in Reykjavik, where Ragna, a friend of the owner of the flat, introduces her to a set of high-spirited Icelandic women. The "radiant, earthen moments" she spends among them contrast with her affair with seductive but dangerous Kjartan, who is 10 years her senior. An alcoholic with a failed marriage, Kjartan is good in bed but too much for the vulnerable Isobel to handle. Her amalgam of neediness and privilege can be off-putting, but as Crowell alternates between Isobel's experiences in New York and Reykjavik, what emerges is a subtle, moving portrait of a young woman struggling to live up to her own high expectations. Agent, Jane Gelfman. Foreign rights sold in the U.K. and Germany. (May 20)